Lawmaker violates campaign finance law, faces possible criminal investigation

Posted Nov. 30, 2011, at 1:49 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 02, 2011, at 12:18 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Ethics Commission ruled Wednesday that a state representative from York County committed numerous violations of the Maine Clean Elections Act last year.

Commission members also recommended that the Maine Attorney General’s office investigate the conduct of David R. Burns, R-Alfred, for possible criminal prosecution.

Burns, a first-time House member who was elected in November 2010, represents House District 138 and the towns of Alfred, Limerick, Newfield and Shapleigh. He was randomly selected by the Maine Ethics Commission earlier this year to submit to an audit of his campaign finance practice.

During the 2010 election cycle, more than 60 candidates were randomly audited (20 percent of all Clean Election candidates), and about 75 percent revealed no violations, Ethic Commission Director Jonathan Wayne said. The rest revealed mostly minor missteps related to record-keeping and reporting expenses.

The Burns’ audit, according to Wayne, revealed a level of misconduct that has rarely been seen by his office.

Burns’ audit report included eight individual instances where Burns reportedly violated provisions of the Maine Clean Elections Act. As a clean elections candidate, Burns received public funds to run his campaign and, in return, was subject to strict guidelines for how those funds were spent and how they expenditures were recorded.

A report presented Wednesday revealed, among other things, that Burns co-mingled campaign finances with personal finances, falsified receipts, used public money for personal expenses and failed to accurately report expenditures.

Walter McKee, who chairs the Ethics Commission, called Burns’ misconduct “mind-boggling.” McKee also said he was bothered by what he called “righteous indignation” by Burns and his campaign staff when the audit report was first revealed.

“Then it turns out they falsified documents too,” he said. “I think we need to send a clear message.”

The Ethics Commission recommendation was to order Burns to pay back $2,285 in public funds that he did not use for his campaign. The commission also favored imposing a penalty but deferred action on that pending the outcome of the Attorney General’s investigation. The maximum penalty would be either $5,000 or $10,000 depending on the violation.

Of the eight reported violations found by the audit, commission members approved seven of them. A claim that Burns was not accurate in reporting mileage expenses was effectively dropped because it would take too much effort to find out whether the candidate was telling the truth.

McKee said he would give Burns the benefit of the doubt on mileage even though he probably didn’t deserve it. The audit asserted that Burns was reimbursed more for mileage than any other House or Senate candidate in 2010.

Burns did not attend Wednesday’s hearing. His attorney, Bill Logan, declined to address specific claims but said the representative is cooperating and will continue to do so. Logan said he doesn’t believe Wednesday’s action or the pending investigation will jeopardize Burns’ status in the Maine House.

Asked whether Burns would seek reelection next November, Logan said he didn’t know.

House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said he would wait for the Attorney General’s investigation to wrap up before he offers a comment.

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