LePage killed ethics reform bill that would bar legislators from paying themselves, family members with PAC money

Money, moneyA bill that would have tightened up regulations that allowed a Sanford legislator to pay himself and family members from a political action committee (PAC) he controlled was killed in late June by a veto by Gov. Paul LePage, which the Maine Senate failed to override.

Although the bill had earlier been approved by the legislature with strong bipartisan support, the override vote followed party lines, with all but two Republicans, Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton, voting to sustain the governor’s veto, and all Democrats voting to overturn it.

The PAC rules change said that “if a Legislator is a principal officer or treasurer of a political action committee or is one of the individuals primarily responsible for raising contributions or making decisions for the political action committee, the committee may not compensate the Legislator or a member of the Legislator’s immediate family or household for services provided to the committee.”

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the bill that would have barred legislators from paying themselves or family members with PAC money they controlled

Photo: Gabor Degre, BDN

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the bill that would have barred legislators from paying themselves or family members with PAC money they controlled

The change was part of a package of legislation from the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices. It was a type of legislation called a “housekeeping” bill for the many small measures it proposed to improve or streamline regulations and procedures.

The ethics commission proposed the PAC change in response to a story published in October, 2014 by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

The story  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 last November for re-election to the Senate after spending 28 years in the legislature, lost to Waterboro Selectman David Woodsome, a Republican, 41 percent to 59 percent.

LePage’s veto message said that the legislation provided “merely form-over-substance changes that do nothing to enhance or strengthen the [campaign finance] reporting laws.”

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the ethics commission, said the failure to pass the legislation “is the first time in 12 years that an agency housekeeping-type bill hasn’t been enacted.”

LePage’s veto was sustained during a rush of override votes in the legislature, which was responding to the record number of vetoes by LePage this session.

Wayne said that despite the partisan vote, he believed that if the bill — or a modified version of it — were submitted again, it would likely pass.

“The legislature gives the ethics commission legislation a great deal of consideration, and I don’t foresee that changing,” said Wayne. “This was an unusual situation in which a lot of bills were vetoed, and the legislature had a very short amount of time to consider these.”

Jill Ward, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine, said she, too, was puzzled why both the ethics commission bill, and a similar “housekeeping” bill submitted by the Secretary of State’s office and vetoed by LePage, did not get revived in by override votes.

“There is no reason why…the agency bills for the Ethics Commission and the Secretary of State should not be enacted.  There was no opposition in committee and both received unanimous support.  These are good-housekeeping bills designed to make government work better and should have been allowed to become law,” said Ward.

Senate Republican leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls did not respond to several requests to explain why Republicans, who had previously supported the ethics commission bill, failed to override the veto.

Wayne said he would go back to the ethics commissioners at their July meeting and discuss submission of a “much smaller” bill to be submitted for the second, short session that begins in January, 2016.

Wayne said that discussion would include whether commissioners want to re-submit the PAC changes.

“That provision was something that I discussed with them and they were very much in favor of,” he said. “They may want to include that in the bill.”

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