Partisan split effectively dooms effort to better police Maine campaign mailings

Posted May 11, 2017, at 5:35 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill designed to strengthen Maine’s regulation of political campaign mailings is destined to fail following a Democrat-led partisan 77-72 vote that effectively blocked the measure Thursday in the House of Representatives.

LD 716, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, would require any mailing advocating the election or defeat of a candidate or ballot measure to be also sent to the Maine Ethics Commission, which oversees and adjudicates campaign finance issues. The bill would also call for the mailings and the reporting of the expenditure of funds supporting them to happen within two weeks of each other.

Currently, the ethics commission does not collect mailed campaign materials unless it is part of an investigation into a specific complaint.

“In my talks with the executive director of the ethics commission, he stated to me that there is no way to track if a mailer actually goes out,” said Parry during House debate on Thursday.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne testified to lawmakers earlier this year that the commission had no objection to the proposal.

Regardless, commission investigations into mailings are common during and after election campaigns. In the days before the November 2016 election, for example, the Maine Democratic Party lodged a complaint involving disclosures on a mailing sent by Republican Sen. Andre Cushing of Newport, who is the assistant Senate majority leader, and a Republican House candidate. Both were fined $50.

In December of 2016, Rep. Lawrence Lockman of Amherst was fined $672.80 for being late in notifying the commission that the New England Opportunity Project, a nonprofit organization he formed, was responsible for a mailing against then-Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan in a Senate race.

The Senate approved Parry’s bill unanimously on Tuesday but attached an amendment that essentially watered down the bill by eliminating the two-week requirement and requiring that only campaign literature distributed by a mailing house be sent to the ethics commission. That would mean candidates or political organizations would still be free to distribute mailings without sending one to the Ethics Commission.

Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, who chairs the legislative committee that debated the bill, said Democrats were concerned by a number of factors, including that the bill would burden the ethics commission.

“This would make the ethics commission file tens of thousands of documents every election,” he said.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, questioned Democrats’ opposition.

“We seem to be saying to the people of the state of Maine that we can’t take the time to send a postcard to the Maine Ethics Commission,” he said. “I mean really? What is the issue here that I’m missing? … Let’s be responsible, let’s be accountable to the people of Maine.”

With the Senate backing the amended version and every House Democrat voting to kill the bill, it is caught between chambers and likely dead.

 

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