Gubernatorial candidate Diane Russell speaks at the Democratic convention, Saturday, May 19, 2018, in Lewiston, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s ethics watchdog ruled on Wednesday that former state Rep. Diane Russell filed incomplete campaign finance reports in her Democratic gubernatorial campaign, but she avoided a major fine less than two weeks before the June 12 primary.

Russell of Portland is one of seven Democrats running to replace the term-limited Gov. Paul LePage, but her campaign has been saddled with debt that ballooned to $77,000 as of late April and equaled more than she raised to that point with just over $400 left in her campaign account.

The former four-term legislator was brought before the Maine Ethics Commission on Wednesday after staff said she didn’t sufficiently disclose the purposes of dozens of campaign expenditures or her relationship to a campaign staffer who lived with her.

The four of five commissioners who were present on Wednesday voted unanimously to find that two campaign finance reports filed in January and May were insufficient and while commission staff recommended no penalty against Russell, the panel agreed on a $300 fine.

Maine campaign finance laws require candidates to describe purchases made by the campaign. Russell’s January report was dinged for dozens of explanations that were too vague, including “travel” and “meals & beverages.” The commission asked for those to be amended in May and they weren’t, which triggered the commission’s action on Wednesday.

After that, Russell’s May report came in with explanations that the candidate admitted were “snarky,” including a U.S. Postal Service expense explained by the line, “If only the campaign filing system were as fast as the mail.”

Russell argued against a fine on Wednesday and at different times, she blamed a clunky state campaign filing system, attention deficit disorder, her status as a “procrastinator” and a busy campaign schedule for the issues with her filings.

“I was not actively trying to hide my campaign expenditures,” she said.

But Commissioner William Lee, a Democrat from Waterville, said the penalty showed that “there is a financial penalty for procrastination” and that “it is a frustration of your own making.”

Russell has a history of issues with the commission. Her political action committee paid more than $4,000 in fines in 2015 and 2016 as penalties for missing or incomplete reports and her unsuccessful 2016 Maine Senate campaign was fined $500 over its use of a committee email list that the commission found should have been reported as a contribution to her campaign.

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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...