AUGUSTA, Maine — A political committee funded by gas generators is facing up to $25,000 in fines from Maine’s ethics regulator — with perhaps more to come — after injecting hundreds of thousands into a campaign against Central Maine Power’s hydropower corridor.
The committee is solely funded by two Texas-based companies — Calpine and Vistra — that generate electricity with natural gas with plants in Westbrook and Veazie, respectively. The companies have fought the project on the regulatory side and stand to lose market share in the regional power grid if the $1 billion, 145-mile corridor through western Maine is built.
Those companies created a political action committee in December to spur a referendum bid from fellow opponents who are looking to place a question on the November ballot that would kill the corridor project. Leaders of that effort turned in 75,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office this week, more than enough to make the ballot once they are verified.
The proposed fine of nearly $25,000 against the committee — called Mainers for Local Energy — highlights the stakes for the web of groups on either side of the referendum. The fine will likely be reduced by the commission. Vivian Mikhail, the committee’s treasurer, said the group has been “immediately responsive and transparent” as soon as issues came to its attention.
Central Maine Power put $2.3 million in the last three months of 2019 into a political committee aiming to salvage the project. Hydro-Quebec, the province-owned utility that would supply the power to the regional grid under the proposal, has agreed to pay a $35,000 fine for late reporting while two other ethics complaints loom against anti-corridor groups.
The Maine Ethics Commission outlined the fine in a Thursday letter after the generator-funded committee was nearly a month late in providing Calpine with a notice that it had to file with the state after injecting more than $100,000 into the campaign effort. It’s unclear how much Calpine and Vistra have spent to date.
However, Calpine disclosed in a report due in January that it put $100,000 into the political committee on Dec. 19, while Vistra filed a notice with the state last month saying it put $100,000 or more into the campaign as of Jan. 2. That second disclosure was due five days later under state law, but it wasn’t filed until Jan. 28, meaning the committee could face more in fines related to that filing, which wasn’t addressed by the commission in Thursday’s letter.
It’s unclear how much Vistra has given the campaign since December because detailed filings aren’t due to the commission until April, but Calpine and Vistra were a major part of the signature drive led by Say No to NECEC, a nonprofit that has organized against the corridor.
As of Dec. 31, the generator-funded committee said it had paid $60,000 to Revolution Field Strategies to gather signatures for proponents of the referendum.