AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s ethics watchdog voted Friday to investigate a Westbrook legislator after finding he may have mixed personal and campaign funds in potential violation of state law and didn’t return taxpayer funds meant for a 2014 campaign.

Rep. Dillon Bates, a second-term Democrat, was already facing a fine from the Maine Ethics Commission for not returning more than $2,600 in funds meant for his 2016 campaign by the Dec. 20 deadline.

He returned that money Monday and provided financial records to the commission that prompted its five members to vote unanimously Friday to direct staff to investigate Bates after a preliminary memo from Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, found “cash management and financial reporting issues” that “deserve additional consideration.”

They surround Bates’ use of the Maine Clean Election Act, which allows legislative and gubernatorial candidates to collect qualifying contributions that trigger taxpayer money to fund their campaigns.

Wayne’s memo said Bates didn’t have the $2,616.99 he needed to pay back in his campaign account last month, so he deposited $200 — apparently in personal funds — and gave the money back to the commission, which the memo called “irregular” and “possibly a legal violation.”

Maine law says campaign funds must be segregated from personal funds. Violation of that statute can carry criminal and civil penalties.

The commission’s review of financial records also found that Bates didn’t return $330.29 in Clean Election funds from his 2014 campaign, leaving it in his account through 2016, when it was mixed with new Clean Election money meant for his campaign later that year.

Wayne’s memo says there is “no evidence” that Bates spent any public money for personal use and that commission staff are “withholding judgment” on whether these are program violations “until we have had a chance to receive a response” from Bates.

Bates, a chorus and drama teacher at The Maine Girls’ Academy in Portland, has been elected by comfortable margins in his liberal northern Westbrook district. He got 59 percent of votes in 2016 and 56 percent two years before.

He said in an early Saturday email that he’s “very apologetic for the money being late.”

“I look forward to meeting with the staff to answer their questions,” Bates said.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...