Ethics panel to consider fining former legislator

By Judy Long, BDN Staff
Posted March 23, 2011, at 8:26 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices next Thursday will take up a recommendation to fine Patricia Jones of Mount Vernon, a former state representative who lost her re-election bid last November.

The commission also will seek to have Jones return public funds used to buy a plane ticket for her son.

Jones, a Democrat who served a two-year term in the House beginning in 2008, lost her re-election bid in District 83 to Republican Dennis Keschl of Belgrade last November.

A retired Maine Bureau of Health employee, Jones received $7,469.50 in Maine Clean Election funds during her 2010 re-election bid, which was augmented by $500 in private contributions used as seed money to qualify for Clean Election money. According to Jones’ expenditure report, of the money she received from the Clean Election fund, she spent $395.80 on Oct. 7 to buy a US Airways ticket for her son to fly from Chicago to Maine to work on her campaign.

According to an advance agenda of the ethics commission’s March 31 meeting, after Jones’ son completed his travel and the election was over, a “former employee of the commission advised her that she could use [Maine Clean Election Act] funds to reimburse herself for this purpose.”

However, the current commission staff has recommended that the expenditure not be permitted under the 2010 Clean Election expenditure guidelines and that Jones be required to repay the money.

Jones intends to challenge the repayment request, she said, because both she and her treasurer were told by a commission employee that using Clean Election funds for her son’s plane ticket was an appropriate use of public money.

“I feel it’s inappropriate once we’ve been told we could use it, now months later coming to me and saying I need to pay for this,” Jones said. “I’m a widow on a fixed income, and in the middle of winter to be told I’ve got to pay money when I’m paying fuel bills, is not appropriate.”

She describes herself as a very strong supporter of the Clean Election act, and would gladly donate to the fund if she had money to do so, but will oppose the repayment request “so other candidates in the future will feel comfortable working with the commission, and can plan their own personal budgets” based on information provided by staff regarding Clean Election funds.

“This is their issue,” Jones said, referring to the commission. “It was their staff person. The information was given to me and I acted on it.”

Commission staff also is recommending that Jones be fined $100 for failure to file her first monthly lobbyist report after registering as a lobbyist for the Fryeburg-based Maine Dental Hygienists Association (of which she is a member) in December. The report was due to be filed by Jan. 18 but was filed two days late.

The preliminary penalty for the late filing is $100.

Jones has asked the commission for a waiver of the fine. She was new to the filing requirements for lobbyists and had difficulties accessing the online electronic reporting system, she said.

Commission staff, while sympathetic to Jones’ first-time filer status, has recommended the ethics commission deny the waiver and assess the $100 fine.

The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 31, at its offices, 45 Memorial Circle, Augusta. In addition to the Jones matters, the commission will take up positions on pending legislation and changes to legislation the commission has already submitted regarding Internet and e-mail activities in political campaigns.

See more news from the Sun Journal at http://www.sunjournal.com/.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/03/23/politics/ethics-panel-to-consider-fining-former-legislator/ printed on September 24, 2014