Ethics board: change law that allowed legislator to pay himself from his PAC

Maine Statehouse, Photo John Christie

Maine Statehouse                Photo: John Christie

AUGUSTA — Maine’s ethics agency has proposed legislation that would tighten up lax regulations that allowed a Sanford legislator to pay himself and family members from political action committee funds he controlled.

The change proposed by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices is part of a package of law changes it will submit in 2015 to the newly seated 127th Legislature.

There are currently no restrictions on how PACs may use their funds.

Commission staff proposed the change in response to a story published in late October by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. The commission approved the proposal at its most recent meeting and it now goes to the legislature.

The story that prompted the proposal documented how state Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, had used his PAC, which was designed to help other Democratic candidates run for office, to buy tires, pay for car repairs, reimburse himself for travel and pay his wife and daughter for computer services and keeping his books.

Of the $31,179 spent by Sen. John Tuttle’s political action committee since 2008, 55 percent — $17,251 — went to himself, family members and expenses related to them and only 30 percent to help other Democratic candidates. Much of the money in the John Tuttle For Leadership PAC came from lobbyists and special interests, including the liquor and gambling industries.

Tuttle, who was running for re-election to the Senate after spending 28 years in the state legislature, lost to Waterboro Selectman David Woodsome, a Republican, 41 percent to 59 percent.

In the proposal, Commission staff wrote, “In response to one of the PACs that received press attention in 2014, the Commission staff proposes that if a Legislator has a principal role in a PAC that the PAC be prohibited from compensating the Legislator or a member of the Legislator’s immediate family or household for services provided to the PAC.”

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, signaled his support for the legislation.

“These common sense changes will bring much needed clarity to the current law,” said Eves. “We appreciate the work of the Ethics Commission in bringing it forward and believe lawmakers should be held to a higher standard.”

Incoming Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, was less committal. When asked if he would support the proposal, Thibodeau said, “After the last election cycle, it’s clear that campaign finance reform is something that needs to be looked at.”

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Augusta. Email: pinetreewatchdog@gmail.com. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org.

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