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AUGUSTA, Maine — A political committee for Gov. Janet Mills has paid off a long-standing debt to the city of Augusta for her January inaugural activities, though it still may face a fine from regulators for paying the debt more than 10 months after a deadline.
The Democratic governor has been raising money throughout the year after her inaugural celebration at the city-owned Augusta Civic Center cost $63,000 more than the $132,000 the committee expected. In September, the committee still owed nearly $70,000 to Augusta.
Filings with the Maine Ethics Commission on Thursday indicated that Mills has now fully paid the debt, which arose from her being the first governor to fundraise under a 2015 law passed by referendum that created a new deadline for inaugural committees.
The law allows for committees managing the inaugural and transition committee for governors-elect to only accept donations until the Jan. 31 after an election. They are not allowed to accept donations from lobbyists or their employers while the Legislature is in session.
Commission staff has said the law is too restrictive to be reasonable, though it looks likely that the four-member commission will pursue a fine against the Mills committee when it considers the retirement of the debt at a Dec. 18 meeting.
At least two commissioners seemed inclined to do so in September, but the group ultimately shied away from deciding on a penalty before the fundraiser was finished, with some saying the committee might be disincentivized to finish the job otherwise.
Mills attorney Michael Carey argued against any fine in a letter informing the commission of the payoff, saying the reasons why the fundraising continued and the transparency of their efforts should be taken into consideration.
He said the committee did not contest the bill — even though it was higher than expected — both because it was not backed by a formal agreement and Augusta taxpayers would have footed the difference. Carey said the committee has acted “in good faith” to fulfill its obligations and plans to donate its remaining balance of $6,618 to organizations that support domestic violence victims.
If any penalty is assessed, he recommended it be no more than $500. The maximum fine the commission is $10,000. Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the commission, did not take a position on whether the committee should be fined in a Thursday memo.
However, Wayne urged commission members to consider the money was not raised to pay off “excessive political consulting fees, personal expenses, or to create an ongoing political fund.”