AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s Democratic party is alleging for the second time in as many weeks that Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, has violated state election law as she campaigns for a second term in the Maine Senate.
The Maine Democratic Party said Wednesday it’s filing a formal complaint with the Maine Ethics Commission alleging that Farnham violated rules surrounding so-called independent expenditures because a political action committee for which Farnham is listed as a principal officer recently purchased $73,000 in television advertising targeting her opponent, Democrat Geoffrey Gratwick, a Bangor doctor and city councilor.
But James Cote, a consultant for the political action committee, the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC, said Farnham is no longer an officer and that her name was left on committee paperwork due to an administrative oversight.
“It’s extremely questionable,” said Democratic party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt. “The sad thing is, I’d hate to see the illegal purchase of airtime have an impact on a campaign whose outcome should be determined by Maine people.”
The Democrats’ ethics complaint stems from $102,000 in TV advertising recently purchased by the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC that targets Democratic Senate candidates in three districts. The bulk of the ad buy, nearly $73,000, targets Gratwick, according to an expenditure report the PAC filed Wednesday with the Maine Ethics Commission.
The Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC’s registration paperwork, filed with the state Ethics Commission on Feb. 3, lists Farnham and Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, as the principal officers and the “primary fundraisers and decision makers.”
Maine election law allows outside groups like political action committees and political parties to make unlimited independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates as long as the expenditures aren’t coordinated with candidates. Under state election law, if a political committee coordinates an expenditure with a candidate, the expenditure counts as a contribution to the candidate.
Farnham is running as a publicly funded candidate under the Maine Clean Election Act, which means she’s prohibited from accepting any kind of contribution.
“This is an egregious violation of Maine law, and the fact that it has been committed by the chair of the committee responsible for Maine campaign finance laws makes it particularly galling,” Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant said in a statement. Farnham chairs the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over election matters that come before the Legislature.
But Cote, the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC consultant, said in an email Wednesday night that Farnham “has never participated in any discussion regarding independent expenditures from the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC during this campaign, nor has she ever coordinated any expenditure with that of her own campaign.”
Reached Wednesday, Farnham said she agreed to be listed temporarily as a principal officer for the PAC, but that she never intended to be involved with the committee during the election season. She said she wasn’t aware of the ad buy targeting Gratwick.
“I haven’t been involved because I knew I wouldn’t have time,” she said. “I told them early on I certainly wouldn’t be available to make decisions like that.”
The ethics complaint involving independent expenditures follows a complaint Democrats filed against Farnham last week alleging that she was late in accounting for expenditures related to a television ad she produced for her campaign. Farnham said her campaign treasurer has addressed that issue by amending the campaign’s quarterly finance report.
The ethics complaints against Farnham are the latest sign Democrats are keenly interested in reclaiming the Senate District 32 seat, which covers Bangor and Hermon. Democrats have so far spent $23,000 on campaign mail in the district, most of it opposing Farnham. The party also included Farnham in a TV ad campaign this summer that labeled her as one of five Republican state senators who serve as “rubber stamps” for Gov. Paul LePage.