Ethics commission ratchets up fines for campaign violations

Boston Globe
Press Clips
Glenn Adams

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine --Maine's campaign oversight committee substantially increased fines Thursday for violations financial reporting, record-keeping and other election-spending rules during two publicly funded legislative races in 2004.

The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices also referred activities of four people involved in the races to the state attorney general's office for possible criminal investigation and prosecution.

The four-member commission fined Jessica Larlee of Minot a total of $15,500 -- $10,000 more than had been recommended by its staff -- for violations that occurred while Larlee served as treasurer in Sarah Trundy's House District 96 campaign.

The commission increased Larlee's fine after concluding that violations including impermissible use of campaign funds and failure to keep records and file reports were so egregious that the maximum fine was warranted, said Paul Lavin, assistant director of the agency.

The commission also levied a fine of $17,500 against Daniel Rogers of Lewiston for violations that occurred while he worked as campaign manager in Julia St. James' Senate District 14 campaign. The fine approved Thursday is $5,000 more than the staff's recommendation.

The commission increased the fine after determining that Rogers used public funds for non-campaign purposes while working for the Hartford resident's campaign. St. James ran as a candidate of the unofficial Fourth Branch Party.

In addition, the commission fined Rogers $200 for his part in producing and distributing a bogus mailing before a February 2004 special election in Biddeford. A campaign postcard claimed that the Democratic nominee had received the endorsement of a fictitious group called the Coalition for Homosexual Marriage in Maine.

The commission reduced the $5,000 fine that was recommended to $200 on the basis of its more narrow interpretation of the law applying to the case, said Lavin.

The fines finalized Thursday can be appealed, said Lavin.

The fines and assessments resulted from violations that occurred in unsuccessful legislative races in which financing through Maine's taxpayer-financed Clean Election Fund had been authorized.

Clean Election money is available to candidates who qualify by collecting required minimums in small donations from supporters. Public funds are then apportioned to so-called "clean" candidates, who receive specified initial amounts and can obtain more money based on what their opponents spend.

But an investigation by the ethics commission revealed anything but clean bookkeeping and sound financial practices in the two Senate and House races. The commission was told of misplaced receipts, checks written for services never provided and theft of campaign property during a hearing probing activities in the Senate race.

On Thursday, the commission accepted its staff's recommendation that St. James repay the Clean Election Fund $11,088 which her campaign failed to account for. St. James has claimed she only failed to account for $4,500.

The commission also increased a proposed fine of $12,000 against St. James to $13,000 for filing of inadequate reports. The commission went along with the staff recommendation to fine Trundy, a Minot resident who ran as a Green party candidate, $500.

But Trundy was ordered to repay the Clean Election Fund $2,981, the cost of campaign mailings for which the commission found insufficient supporting documentation.

None of those involved in the campaign activities attended Thursday's meeting. It was postponed from Dec. 16 after Rogers requested that the meeting be held later so he could attend, said Lavin.

On the Net: Ethics Commission:

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company