AUGUSTA, Maine — A company apparently tied to China disclosed that it’s backing the campaign for a new Maine casino on Monday — a move likely to frustrate state ethics watchdogs investigating millions in offshore dollars already dumped into the effort.
The effort to get voters to approve a York County casino in the November election has been run to date by Lisa Scott of Miami. A company controlled by Shawn Scott, her brother, is the only one allowed to operate the casino, based on the way the ballot question is written. But she may be taking a step back.
On Monday, a new political action committee called Progress For Maine registered to support the casino ballot question. A Maine harness racer chairs the PAC, but the filing to the Maine Ethics Commission says the group that founded it is a New York City company called Atlantic & Pacific Realty Capital LLC.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai’s website says that company is controlled by Koa Overseas Consultants, Ltd., a Chinese consulting firm that supports the American EB-5 program, which provides green cards to foreign investors giving $1 million in many cases to new businesses.
It’s unclear if the backers of the referendum have changed. Shawn Scott, a U.S. Virgin Islands developer, is linked to a network of offshore companies.
But Progress for Maine is setting up a campaign apparatus. In an initial financial filing, the new PAC reported $330,000 in debt — almost all of it from hiring political outfits headlined by Goddard Gunster, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that works on state ballot initiatives. It lists a not-yet-operational website in another ethics filing.
Rumiko Yoneyama, the registered agent for a company called Progress For Maine that formed here last month, declined comment when reached late Monday night. She’s listed as the general counsel for the California-based American General Corporation in the financial filing.
Mike Sherry, a spokesman for Progress For Maine, said it is “building a broad coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations eager to create new jobs and revenues to help Maine fund its priorities.”
Lisa Scott and Cheryl Timberlake, a lobbyist who runs Lisa Scott’s political committee, didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.
So far, their campaign has been controversial: The ethics commission voted in June to probe the bid’s funding after Lisa Scott disclosed that $4.3 million in campaign funds that filings initially said came from her came from a company controlled by her brother and a Japanese company — in apparent violation of Maine law.
That Shawn Scott-controlled company — Las Vegas-based Capital Seven, LLC — would operate the new casino. He ran a successful 2003 campaign that persuaded voters to allow slots at a Bangor facility. But he sold it for $51 million in 2004 without getting a license to operate in Maine after a damning regulatory report. It became Hollywood Casino.
Bridge Capital, a Scott company in the U.S. Pacific commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, had a casino seized and sold by Laos in 2015. It was behind a failed Massachusetts referendum in 2016 that agreed to pay $125,000 in penalties for concealing contributions.
It also runs its own EB-5 offshoot. That program has long been criticized over cases of corruption and poor coordination with local officials. But it has been used more since the 2008-09 recession made it harder to get bank financing, the Brookings Institution said in 2014.
The new PAC is chaired by Charlene Cushing of Farmington, who the Sun Journal profiled in 2013 as one of Maine’s few female harness racers. She didn’t respond to messages seeking comment on Monday and Tuesday.
Lisa Scott has pitched the casino as a boon for Maine’s struggling harness racing industry, which would get 10 percent of slot machine revenue under the proposal.
Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, a top critic of the proposal, raced alongside Cushing at the 2015 Farmington Fair against fellow senators, according to The Daily Bulldog.
He called her a “wonderful” person, but he labeled the campaign “a shell game” and said he hoped backers aren’t “sucking good people in.”
“I think it’s sad,” Mason said. “I think that they are attempting to use and prey on the Maine people to make a bunch of money that amounts to crony capitalism in the end.”