AUGUSTA — Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said that he would appeal the Legislative Council’s decision Thursday not to allow in two bills designed to strengthen state ethics laws and restore the public trust in its elected officials.
“As long as elected officials are allowed to use the political system as their own personal piggy bank, Mainers will continue to be suspicious of our motives. As long as lawmakers and lobbyists are seen as one and the same, a dark cloud of misgiving will hang over the Legislature, with the public wondering whose benefit is truly being served,” said Sen. Chenette.
Six of the 10 members of the Legislative Council, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, must approve a bill for consideration during the 2nd Regular Session of the Legislature, which begins in January. Both of Sen. Chenette’s PAC bills were rejected in 5-5, party-line votes, with Republicans blocking them from even receiving a public hearing.
The bills in question would seek to close loopholes in how legislators may utilize Political Action Committees, or PACs, which were identified in an ethics probe earlier this year into spending and disclosure by an incumbent Republican legislator.
LR 2650 would close a loophole that allows elected officials to use PACs for personal profit. It is illegal in Maine for a politician to use PAC money to pay themselves, but nothing in state law prevents them from cutting checks to businesses they own. The legislator in question was found to have made an $11,000 payment from his PAC to pay his family business $11,000. The legislator said these funds were a “loan” designed to keep the business afloat. The state Ethics Commission found the business only repaid a portion of that “loan.”
LR 2651 would clarify the difference between a “late” and “unfiled” campaign finance report. The same legislator who was subject to the ethics investigation was given a relative slap-on-the-wrist for thousands of dollars worth of unreported campaign spending after the Ethics Commission opted to deem the disclosures “late” rather than “unfiled.”
“Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to hide their campaign activity for years and get away with a slap on the wrist for ‘filing late’ only after they’re caught,” Sen. Chenette said.
The Legislative Council will consider appeals at its November 30 meeting.
Rep. Justin Chenette
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