AUGUSTA, Maine — Staff at Maine’s ethics watchdog agency recommended Tuesday that Assistant Maine Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing and his political committee should be fined at least $11,000 after a 10-month investigation into the Republican’s political operation.
The probe was motivated by Cushing’s sister, Laura Cushing McIntyre of Hermon, after she filed an October civil lawsuit against him alleging misuse of more than $1 million in family funds. Her complaint to the Maine Ethics Commission said some of that was used for political purposes.
Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, said in a Tuesday memo to commissioners that staff found that 11 finance reports from 2014 to 2016 — 10 from Cushing’s political action committee and one from his 2016 campaign — should be considered late under Maine law.
Commission staff found that Cushing, a Republican from Newport, didn’t report transfers between a family business and his political action committee, Respect Maine. Some credit card purchases “for a mix of personal and political purposes” were reimbursed by the PAC and also were unreported.
Cushing told the commission that the transfers included “short-term loans” from the PAC to New England Forest Products — the business — to cover expenses. While money was typically returned to the PAC, it sometimes came after weeks or months and amounts didn’t correspond.
Wayne said the maximum penalty under Maine law is more than $100,000, but he recommended that commissioners assess a penalty of between $11,000 to $16,500 because of several mitigating factors, including that Cushing gained no unfair advantage in re-election races and money that went undisclosed didn’t affect other elections.
The fine would be one of the highest penalties ever assessed by the commission, which will consider the recommendation and hear from Cushing at an Aug. 30 meeting. The record fine went to the National Organization for Marriage, which got a $50,000 penalty in 2014 for concealing donors’ identities during a 2009 campaign against same-sex marriage.
There are essentially no restrictions in Maine law on PAC spending. One of the only limitations is that PACs can’t buy liquor “to be distributed to or consumed by voters while the polls are open” on Election Day. That allows PACs to spend money for an officer’s personal benefit.
Before the commission’s findings were released on Tuesday, Cushing told the Bangor Daily News that he agreed with the findings and that staff “were very fair in how they approached this,” though he called the reporting process “cumbersome.”
Cushing said last year that his sister’s civil lawsuit is “without merit.” It’s still pending in Penobscot County Superior Court, according to Walter McKee, McIntyre’s attorney.