The Maine Senate has given preliminary approval to a bill that would prohibit state legislators from using money donated to their political action committees to provide loans to businesses they own.
The proposal is, in part, motivated by the discovery two years ago that the former assistant Republican leader in the Senate had used thousands of dollars donated to his PAC to pay off debts incurred by businesses he owned.
Andre Cushing of Newport was ultimately fined $9,000 by the Maine Ethics Commission.
However, the penalty wasn’t imposed for the way Cushing used the funds. It was ordered because of Cushing’s failure to disclose the transactions according to state campaign finance laws.
Democratic Sen. Justin Chenette, of Saco, says the bill he’s sponsoring would make the activity itself illegal.
“Rules governing PACs in Maine are so lax that nothing prevented one lawmaker from using our campaign finance system as his own personal lending agency,” Chenette said.
Chenette’s bill received unanimous support on Tuesday. He says the proposal will close a loophole that could be easily exploited by other lawmakers who operate PACs.
Such PACs are widely used by legislators who are either in leadership positions, or who aspire to be, because they can be used to assist the election of other lawmakers, who then return the favor by voting for their benefactors during elections for House speaker, Senate president and other ranking posts.
Chenette’s bill will require additional votes by the House and Senate before going to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills for approval.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.