FORT KENT, Maine — A candidate for the Maine House District 1 seat issued an online retraction and apology Friday after fliers mistakenly reporting an endorsement from the National Rifle Association were posted online Thursday.
“I want to correct something for the record with regards to the claim made yesterday about the NRA endorsing my campaign,” Republican candidate Mike Nadeau wrote on his website late Friday morning. “The NRA did not, in fact, endorse my campaign.”
Also on Friday, the Maine Ethics Commission opened an investigation into an expenditure made on Nadeau’s behalf by an organization run by his campaign treasurer, Philip Soucy.
Nadeau, a first-time candidate, is running against veteran state lawmaker Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake.
The paper and online version of the flier claiming the NRA endorsement point to Nadeau’s “AQ rating” from the NRA, something he and the organization stand firmly behind.
“That is not an endorsement by the NRA,” Nadeau said, adding an overzealous campaign volunteer had interpreted the rating as an endorsement.
The AQ rating is the highest the NRA gives to a first-time candidate and is based on the individual’s responses to a questionnaire.
“A mistake was made,” Nadeau said. “I had not read the [flier] completely before it went out and was posted to my website.”
On Friday an NRA spokeswoman said her organization endorses only one candidate per race, and in this case the nod went to Martin.
“The NRA does endorse John Martin with an A-plus,” Stephanie Stamford said. “He has a really strong record [and] is a true leader in keeping our right to bear arms.”
In fact, on Friday Martin pointed out 20 years ago he sponsored legislation making the right to bear arms a state constitutional right.
“That probably upsets me the most,” Martin said about his opponent’s campaign flier. “There has been a lot of stuff out there attacking me, but this was so out of bounds.”
The flier was produced by the PAC Respect ME.
“I did not approve anything about the NRA endorsing Mr. Nadeau,” Andre Cushing, chairman of Respect ME, said Friday. “And I had nothing to do with what was posted on the Web.”
Republican Cushing is the assistant majority leader of the Maine House and a candidate for Senate District 33.
By late Friday morning the report of an NRA endorsement had been removed from Nadeau’s website and a retraction printed.
“The bottom line is this was a mistake,” Nadeau said. “I will not point fingers, [and] the buck stops here. I am responsible and I will take the heat and I do apologize to everyone.”
While satisfied that Nadeau had removed the wording from the website, Martin did feel it was too little, too late.
“I am pleased he has done that,” Martin said. “But in the meantime those [fliers] have gone out to the entire district saying he had the endorsement.”
Information on the NRA’s endorsements and ratings of all Maine candidates is available at http://www.nrapvf.org/grades-endorsements/2012/maine.aspx.
The Maine Ethics Commission opened its investigation into Soucy, Nadeau’s treasurer, after Soucy filed an independent expenditure report with the commission Friday indicating that an organization for which he’s also treasurer, Citizens for Effective Government, had spent $1,500 on campaign literature and postage on Nadeau’s behalf.
Under Maine election law, outside groups are allowed to make expenditures in support of candidates as long as the groups don’t coordinate with the candidate.
Ethics commission executive director Jonathan Wayne said Friday that commission staff started looking into the situation because Soucy is treasurer for both Nadeau’s campaign and for Citizens for Effective Government.
“It’s something we’re reviewing,” Wayne said. “It’s unusual.”
If a candidate and an outside group do coordinate on an expenditure, the spending counts as a direct contribution to the candidate’s campaign. In Nadeau’s case, he’s receiving public campaign funds under the Maine Clean Election Act and is prohibited from accepting any contributions.
Soucy signed an affidavit Friday indicating he didn’t make the expenditure “in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, any candidate, authorized committee or agent of a candidate in a race affected by any expenditure listed in this report.”
It’s unclear where Citizens for Effective Government received its funding, as it’s not registered as a political action committee with the Maine Ethics Commission.
Soucy couldn’t be reached for comment late Friday. Nadeau said he wasn’t aware of the independent expenditure made on his behalf.
Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said the party is preparing a formal complaint to submit to the ethics commission, a step that could trigger a hearing on Monday, a day before Election Day.
If ethics commissioners decide against an immediate hearing on the matter, they would likely take it up at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 28.
BDN political reporter Matt Stone contributed to this report.