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House member alleges treasurer has engaged commerce prohibited by Constitution

Posted Feb. 07, 2012, at 4:22 p.m.
 Bruce Poliquin
Derek Davis
Bruce Poliquin

AUGUSTA, Maine — Frustrated with a lack of response from the Attorney General’s Office, Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, presented new information Tuesday he says supports claims that Treasurer Bruce Poliquin has violated the state Constitution by engaging in commerce.

Article V, Part 3 Sec. 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.”

Last month, Dion asked Attorney General William Schneider to issue an opinion on whether Poliquin’s private Popham Beach Club constitutes commerce. Poliquin owns and operates the club in Phippsburg, which charges $2,000 a month for membership, and recently received a permit to expand the club.

Poliquin has not responded to questions about Dion’s request and did not return a call Tuesday for comment. He has appeared on radio news shows each of the last two mornings to dispute the allegations against him.

The attorney general’s office has not issued a ruling.

“We are working on a response to Rep. Dion’s letter. We want to make sure the law is thoroughly researched and correct before we do so,” AG spokeswoman Brenda Kielty said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Dion offered new claims Tuesday, specifically that Poliquin has been actively developing and marketing real estate in the Popham Woods Condominium project in Phippsburg through his firm, Dirigo Holdings, LLC. Real estate listings for property in Popham Woods indicate that a free membership in the Popham Beach Club are included with purchase.

Shortly after Dion’s initial complaint last month, the Maine Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Maine Ethics Commission alleging that Poliquin violated ethics laws by not disclosing his business dealings.

The Ethics Commission is not expected to take up that complaint until Feb. 29, but Poliquin filed a written response late last week in which he admitted that he didn’t disclose all his business dealings but insisted he did nothing wrong.

In his response, Poliquin disclosed his involvement with Dirigo Holdings, but said it’s simply an investment and that he is not directly involved with operations.

“Other than periodically providing funds for payment of expenses and periodically consulting with the manager/bookkeeper, who oversees the operation and management of Dirigo Holdings, LLC and Popham Woods Condominium, I am not engaged in the operations or management of these real estate investments,” he wrote.

Poliquin also said he didn’t disclose Dirigo Holdings initially because it didn’t make any money in 2010.

Dion said he’s not buying the treasurer’s explanation.

“The notion that Mr. Poliquin’s bookkeeper is handling all the decisions on his $17 million development doesn’t pass a straight-face test,” Dion said. “He’s invested millions of dollars into this real estate project. Are we supposed to believe he has left it in the hands of a bookkeeper?”

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 office concluded that it was a conflict.

Whether Poliquin’s dealings with the Popham Beach Club and now with Dirigo Holdings LLC constitute “commerce” ultimately will determine how the attorney general rules.

The new information presented Tuesday is latest is a series of allegations against Poliquin by Democrats and progressive groups.

Aside from the initial complaint by Dion and the subsequent complaint by the Maine Democratic Party, Poliquin has faced questions about enrolling most of his multimillion-dollar Georgetown property in the state’s tree growth program.

Last week, the nonprofit group Maine’s Majority questioned Poliquin’s enrollment of 10 acres into the tree growth program, a move than saved him thousands of dollars in property taxes each year.

A requirement of enrollment in the tree growth program is that the landowner must adopt sustainable, commercial timber harvesting practices on the property. Yet, his deed seems to prohibit timber harvesting.

The Board of Selectmen in Georgetown are expected to debate Poliquin’s tree growth management plan at a meeting next week.

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