Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the American Legislative Exchange Council Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Credit: Rick Bowmer / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — A major national conservative group is refusing to comply with a Maine ethics investigation into whether it broke campaign finance laws here, setting up potential subpoenas from the state regulator.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, was alleged to have violated laws prohibiting contributions more than $400 to legislative candidates by providing access to software including voter information and constituent engagement tracking. The complaint was brought by the liberal Center for Media and Democracy, which made similar ones in other states.

It was centered on two lawmakers, Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, and Rep. Matthew Harrington, R-Sanford, but the Maine Ethics Commission dismissed any case against them to pursue an investigation of ALEC itself, which included requests for information from the group.

But ALEC has refused to participate in the investigation because it believes it to be illegitimate, something that could set Maine up for a protracted legal fight and that commissioners will weigh at a Friday meeting. The group has questioned whether making its software available to members to use violates the law and whether Maine even has the ability to conduct the probe.

“ALEC continues to maintain that there are insufficient grounds to believe that a violation may have occurred, and that the complaint should be dismissed,” ALEC lawyer Jason Torchinsky wrote in a Nov. 30 letter.

It leaves the watchdog agency with a few options, Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the commission, wrote in a memo Wednesday. Commissioners could subpoena ALEC to provide information, proceed with the evidence it has seen or suspend the investigation.

Wayne offered no recommendation, but he did note elements of ALEC’s software — such as information on how often residents vote and Republican National Committee identification numbers — supports the argument that the software is meant to help candidates campaign.

“It is possible that ALEC has explanations on these features, but we have not heard them,” he wrote.

ALEC is a major networking group for Republicans lawmakers that also takes money for corporate funders. Its main role in national politics is drafting and sharing so-called model legislation often submitted in state legislatures. Certain Maine lawmakers’ ties to the group gained some attention early in the first term of former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.