Democrats allege Treasurer Poliquin’s beach club dealings are unconstitutional

 Bruce Poliquin speaks at at Husson University in March 2011.
Bruce Poliquin speaks at at Husson University in March 2011.
Posted Jan. 18, 2012, at 5:29 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 18, 2012, at 7:10 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A lawmaker from Portland has asked the state Attorney General’s Office to issue an opinion on whether state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin has violated Maine’s Constitution by engaging in commerce while serving as treasurer.

The commerce in question is Poliquin’s role in the Popham Beach Club, a $2,000-per-year private club in Phippsburg that has angered some nearby residents.

Article v, Part 3 § 3 of the Maine Constitution reads: “The treasurer shall not, during the treasurer’s continuance in office, engage in any business of trade or commerce, or as a broker, nor as an agent or factor for any merchant or trader.”

Rep. Mark Dion, a Democrat, lawyer and former Cumberland County sheriff, said it’s important for Maine people to know whether or not Poliquin violated the constitution.

“I’m calling on the Attorney General to provide clarity on this matter in a timely manner,” he said in his letter.

Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the request was received on Tuesday and is “under review.”

Poliquin did not return a call for comment on Wednesday.

There appears to be precedent for the type of conflict alleged by Dion. In 1978, then-Treasurer Jerrold Speers received an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office about whether he could work part time during his term as a constitutional officer. The AG’s Office concluded that it was a conflict.

Whether Poliquin’s dealings with the Popham Beach Club constitute “commerce” ultimately will determine how Attorney General William Schneider rules.

Poliquin recently applied for and was granted a business permit to expand the club and allow year-round catering functions there.

According to a column by Bill Nemitz of the Portland Press Herald, Poliquin had inquired about his business dealings before he was officially named treasurer.

Former Attorney General Janet Mills, now vice chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, told Nemitz that she could not give Poliquin legal advice until he actually took over as treasurer.

“I think we encouraged him to seek his own private legal counsel if he had any questions — because he wasn’t a public official,” Mills said.

It’s not clear if Poliquin did seek counsel.

Late in the day Wednesday, the Maine Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Maine Ethics Commission alleging that Poliquin violated ethics laws by not disclosing his business dealings.

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