AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Republican Party officials are fending off allegations that the party is deep in debt, saying that an inaccurate state campaign finance website has created a false impression that the party spent more money than it had during the most recent reporting period.
“We are solvent,” said Benjamin Lombard, the party’s treasurer, on Friday. “We’re working with the Maine Ethics Commission to get this fixed.”
According to the ethics commission’s online records, the party is about $140,000 in debt, based on an amended report the GOP filed Thursday. Prior to that, the records showed that the party was closer to $190,000 in debt, but party leaders say that because of problems the commission is having with its new campaign finance portal, neither of those amounts is close to accurate.
The party’s Federal Election Commission filing, which shows a cash balance of more than $50,000, supports those statements.
Maine Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne acknowledged that because of the new system — along with the fact that political parties in Maine are not required by law to report their cash-on-hand balances — some of the online numbers are not accurate. He said that’s also true of the state’s other party committees.
“The reports by the party committees show the flow of cash in and out of the party but do not accurately show how much cash is on hand,” said Wayne. “The logic of this part of the report needs to be improved. It’s among a number of changes we’ve requested from our IT consultant.”
According to Lombard and other Maine GOP officials, including Executive Director Jason Savage and Chairman Rick Bennett, the problem was created when the party uploaded its financial spreadsheets to the ethics commission’s website, which then tallies the data and produces a financial summary. That includes a line called “Cash Balance at End of Period,” which is where a negative balance is shown.
“That phrase, ‘cash balance,’ is something that we need to modify,” said Wayne. “We don’t know what their cash balance really is. … That’s not required in law.”
Lombard and Savage said that the commission’s website hasn’t recorded some contributions correctly and that it counted cash transfers between various accounts as debits when in fact that cash was not actually spent.
“It’s just the way the data is getting uploaded,” said Lombard. “We don’t have any ability to put any data on that [cash balance] line.”
Lombard said the party’s filings at the federal level are a more accurate representation of its financial status. The Federal Election Commission’s website shows a cash-on-hand balance of about $53,000 as of March 31 and fundraising receipts of more than $117,000 in February, March and April.
Bennett said the party struggled financially in the recent past but has turned that situation around.
“When I took on this position we had accounts payable accumulated in the tens of thousands of dollars,” said Bennett. “We paid off all of that by the end of 2013 and now we’re just building for the 2014 elections.”
Bennett said he doesn’t know exactly what the party’s cash position is because numerous accounts are involved and the party is making expenditures in the ramp-up to the Republican State Convention in Bangor at the end of the month.
“We’ve got more cash than expenditures,” he said. “It’s just a question of springboarding from the convention and some fundraising around that to build the warchest for the elections.”
There is also a wide disparity between state and federal filings by the Maine State Democratic Committee. While the Maine Ethics Commission shows fundraising in the first quarter of 2014 of $665,000 and a March 31 cash balance of nearly $417,000, the Federal Election Commission numbers following the Democrats’ most recent monthly filing show about $23,000 cash on hand as of Feb. 28 and total receipts of about $122,000 in February and March.