Good morning from Augusta. A never-before-used provision in Maine law will make Attorney General Janet Mills’ transition to the governor’s office the most transparent one in state history, but we won’t see the donors until Jan. 2 — the day she takes office.
The change is rooted in an overlooked portion of a 2015 campaign finance referendum that was chiefly aimed at expanding the state’s public campaign financing system. It also established financial reporting requirements for the transition teams that have always fallen in limbo between campaigns and state government.
This is important, since governors-elect are allowed to take unlimited contributions to guide governors-elect to the Blaine House and fund their inaugural activities. Here’s what will change with the 2018 transition.
We used to rely on governors-elect to disclose donors voluntarily and they could roll contributions into outside political operations. Not anymore. During his 2010 transition to the governor’s office, then Gov.-elect Paul LePage voluntarily disclosed his group of largely corporate transition donors, but he didn’t disclose the amounts they gave to his effort.
After that, LePage’s transition team — officially a nonprofit corporation — was turned into an outside political group called Maine People Before Politics run at different times by Jason Savage, now the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, and Lauren LePage, the governor’s daughter and a Republican operative.
These things can’t happen after the new law. While transition teams can take unlimited contributions until Jan. 31, they have to disclose contributions and expenditures in reports to the Maine Ethics Commission on Jan. 1 and Feb. 15. They also must close their funds before that last filing and remaining money must be given back to donors, to a charity or to the state.
Mills’ team says it will soon begin raising money for the transition with a key deadline coming up after which they can’t take contributions from lobbyists. Except for all of those new disclosure laws, there isn’t much in Maine law governing gubernatorial transitions. While 13 states give governors-elect budgets in the tens of thousands of dollars, Maine only gives them $5,000, according to the National Governors Association.
Also, most transition activities are coordinated informally by incoming and outgoing administrations. For example, Mills’ team — led by Jeremy Kennedy, her incoming chief of staff, and former Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant — has office space in the basement of the Cross Office Building next to the State House, but there is no requirement to provide it.
Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said because of the “limited” public funding for the transition, the team will raise private funds for the transition, but it hasn’t begun to yet. It has to register with the ethics commission within 10 days of appointing a treasurer to oversee that effort.
Ogden didn’t answer a question on whether Mills, a Democrat, would take money from lobbyists. If she does, it would have to come within a week. The new legislative session begins on Dec. 5. During that time, lobbyists can’t give to the transition, Mills’ next campaign or to legislators.
Pingree backs ‘Green New Deal’ plan
The Maine congresswoman was the 15th Democrat to get behind a sweeping outline of a plan to fight climate change from a rising progressive star. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District announced Tuesday that she supports the “Green New Deal” from U.S. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. While the plan is unlikely to gain traction under President Donald Trump and a Republican Senate, it is a rallying issue for the left, particularly after a landmark Trump administration report on the effects of climate change.
Ocasio-Cortez’s plan is really more of an outline that would leave the finer points of fighting climate change to Congress. However, it establishes an ambitious set of goals that includes generating 100 percent of U.S. power from renewable sources within 10 years.
In a statement, Pingree called the Green New Deal “an important blueprint for us to fight this crisis on all fronts.” She was the 15th House Democrat to get behind the plan.
— A provocative OpEd earned the Belfast mayor a vote of no confidence. In a special meeting Tuesday night, Belfast city councilors unanimously voted to prevent Mayor Samantha Paradis from speaking on their behalf in the future, after she late last week published an opinion piece in the Republican Journal in which councilors believe she called them bigots, sexist and ageist. The largely symbolic gesture, unheard of in Belfast in recent memory, also led councilors to vote 3-2 to withdraw from the statewide Mayor’s Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development. Councilors said they don’t trust Paradis’ ability to represent them and the interests of Belfast to other municipal leaders. Paradis, who, at 26, was elected as the youngest, first openly queer mayor in the city last year, said it was her First Amendment right to share her experience and was “in no way a personal attack on any individual.”
— LePage continues to fight court-ordered Medicaid expansion. On Monday, the outgoing Republican governor requested a stay of Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy’s decision last week ordering that Medicaid expansion be implemented by Dec. 5. Murphy concluded that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services “failed and refused to comply” with the 2017 voter-approved expansion. LePage, in his request filed with the state’s Business and Consumer Court, argued the expansion would “prompt a fiscal crisis.” He plans to appeal, while Mills has said she will authorize the expansion on her first day in office, Jan. 2.
— A beloved Bangor Italian eatery has been resurrected as a food truck. Momma Baldacci’s, a restaurant staple born of the famous Maine political family that includes former Gov. John Baldacci that closed in 2008, has reopened as a food truck, Momma Baldacci’s Italian Street Food. The truck is managed by Paul Baldacci, Jr., son of Paul Baldacci, Sr., who managed the brick-and-mortar restaurant until he died in 2006. Baldacci, Jr., a trained chef, intends to divide his time mostly between Bangor and Portland, serving up twists on the classics, like a meatball sub on brown butter garlic bread, and a chicken parmesan with mozzarella, capicola ham, roasted garlic aioli and that classic Baldacci marinara.
I attended my first Belfast City Council meeting last night as a fledgling citizen, and though a lot of the content was unsettling and many residents left upset, I was heartened by the size of the crowd, which swelled to capacity in the small council chambers and spilled into the hallway.
As a journalist who has reported on a handful of Maine municipalities, one of the first harsh introductions to the job is learning how hard it is for local elected officials to garner involvement from the community.
So, while this histrionic situation in Belfast is likely only beginning, I’m pleased that many clearly care enough to listen and hopefully learn. Here’s your soundtrack. — Alex Acquisto
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Alex Acquisto. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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