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Maine Democrat faces new ethics questions about campaign spending

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Gubernatorial candidate Diane Russell speaks at the Democratic convention, Saturday, May 19, 2018, in Lewiston, Maine. She is being asked to clarify a number of items on recent campaign finance filings.

A Democratic gubernatorial candidate is being asked to clarify a number of items on recent campaign finance filings regarding a campaign staffer who lived with her and dozens of expenditures for which the campaign purpose was not clear enough for the Maine Ethics Commission.

Commission staff has recommended that commissioners find Democratic candidate Diane Russell in violation of campaign disclosure laws, but did not recommend financial penalties because Maine election law does not prescribe them.

“Candidates for governor should be held to a high standard of financial disclosure and Ms. Russell is familiar with the reporting requirements and procedures based on her years of service in the Maine House of Representatives,” wrote commission director Jonathan Wayne in a memo to commission members who are scheduled to rule May 30 on the recommendation.

Russell on Wednesday admitted to errors in her paperwork and said she is working to correct or clarify them. She said she provided campaign staffer William Yate, to whom she reported paying $12,368 in eight installments, a room in her house and did not know she was required to disclose that.

“I was trying to save money on the campaign trail, that’s all it was,” said Russell. “I provided him a place to live while working on the campaign. There’s no untoward relationship there.”

Wayne also wrote that Russell has not clarified the campaign purpose of dozens of expenditures, including a number of items listed as “food & beverage” at locations ranging from the Hilltop Superette in Portland to an Irish pub in Boston.

Also questioned were numerous travel expenses, including Lyft rides and airline tickets. Russell said they were all legitimate campaign expenses, including travel to fundraisers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. — though she acknowledged they did not turn out to be wise expenditures.

“I would have loved for those events to have been more productive,” Russell said. “A good portion of my expenses that are in debt are related to fundraising. I hired consultants who were support to raise a significant amount of funds, but unfortunately they didn’t.”

According to Russell’s most recent report, filed to the ethics commission on May 1, her campaign is carrying more than $77,000 in debt and had about $420 in cash on hand.

This is not the first time Russell has been in violation of campaign finance laws. In 2016, she was fined $500 related to fundraising through an email list she launched in 2011. In 2015, the Working Families PAC Russell once ran was fined $2,000 for filing some expenditures more than a year late.

Wayne has given Russell deadlines to amend her reports and said Wednesday afternoon she has not yet complied.

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