AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s ethics regulator said Tuesday it won’t act on dueling ethics complaints from Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and a political committee that formed this summer to oppose him at least until November and after next Tuesday’s election.
The two sets of complaints were referred by the city of Portland to the Maine Ethics Commission on Monday. Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, said attorneys for all parties could not be reached to agree on scheduling ahead of a planned Wednesday meeting of the four-person board. It may now act on the complaints next month.
But Wayne told commissioners in a memo that Unite Portland, the committee that opposes Strimling, could face thousands of dollars in fines under state law for late disclosure of advertising expenses and said that group’s complaint against Strimling is unsubstantiated.
Stephanie Clifford, Strimling’s campaign manager, said in a Tuesday statement that the campaign was “disappointed” that the complaints — the first of which was made Oct. 8 — weren’t referred to the commission earlier, but that it was “pleased” with Wayne’s initial findings.
Strimling, who was elected in 2015, is seeking re-election in a ranked-choice voting race against attorney and City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, former school board chair Kate Snyder and server Travis Curran. The mayor was elected amid a promise to be a “listener-in-chief” with business, but he has warred with City Manager Jon Jennings and councilors during his tenure and is now running as a movement progressive with support from dozens of labor groups.
Much of Strimling’s former business support has now gone to Thibodeau and Snyder. In August, a political committee called Unite Portland emerged to run advertisements to oppose the mayor’s re-election while advocating for no other candidate in particular. The committee raised nearly $19,000 by September’s end, much of it from real estate developers.
Strimling’s campaign filed two ethics complaints against Unite Portland earlier this month, alleging several violations of state law including making $15,000 on advertising purchases that should have been disclosed within two days when they were made in September. They were not disclosed until other filings were made in October.
The group is likely to be fined over this. Wayne said in his memo that Unite Portland faces a preliminary maximum penalty of more than $7,000 for the late reporting, though commissioners would have to vote to assess an eventual penalty and could choose to lower it.
Unite Portland responded with a more nebulous mid-October complaint against Strimling, alleging that Progressive Portland, a group that backs the mayor, was boosting his campaign without filing campaign finance reports.
The group’s co-founder has said it has only volunteered for Strimling and volunteer work is not considered a political contribution under state law. Wayne said in another memo that Unite Portland has not provided the commission “with clear evidence concerning any financial activities” in support of Strimling other than email communications.