AUGUSTA -- An honors student from the University of Maine stood before lawmakers Wednesday and, in a clear and confident voice, walked them through an ethics reform proposal that would require more extensive disclosure of the financial affairs of public officials and legislators.
While the bill, L.D. 1001, was proposed by Gov. Paul LePage and sponsored by Democratic legislator Sen. Emily Cain, it was 20-year-old Shelbe Lane of Patten who gave lawmakers on the legislature’s Legal and Veterans’ Affairs Committee a tutorial on the legislation, which is aimed at increasing transparency about government officials’ financial affairs.
The work was part of her thesis project at the university, and was sparked by a national report last year that gave Maine government an “F” for its potential for corruption.Lane worked with Michael Cianchette, counsel in the governor’s office, and Cain for much of 2012 to draft the legislation, “An Act To Improve Laws Governing Financial Disclosure by Legislators and Certain Public Employees and Public Access to Information Disclosed.”
Maine ranked 46th in the “State Integrity Investigation” by three nonpartisan good government groups that was released in mid-March.
"I have learned a great deal through this process,” Lane told the committee. “And what I have to offer you as a result of my thesis is a proposal that is attainable right now, including a series of additions and amendments to the financial disclosure statements used here in Maine that can be put into practice and help get Maine moving further in the right direction with ethics reform.”
The bill proposes four changes to current law:
• Ownership interests of 5 percent or more held by lawmakers, executive branch officials or their immediate family members in “business entities” must be disclosed. Current law only requires disclosure only if a majority share is owned.
• Lawmakers or executive branch officials must disclose if they are in a responsible position in a political party, with a political action committee (PAC) or ballot question committee. Current law requires disclosure only if the lawmaker or executive branch official is a responsible officer in a PAC or ballot question committee.
• The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices will adopt rules that require reporting of income of $2,000 or more in ranges that will be determined by the commission. Current law only requires that the source of the income be reported, but not the amount or range.
• Legislators and executive employees are required to file their disclosure statements electronically and those statements must be available immediately on a publicly accessible website. Current law allows those disclosure statements to be handwritten, and an electronic image of the statement is posted on the ethics commission website.
Several other ethics reform bills were introduced to the committee Wednesday. They were:
• LD 349, An Act to Strengthen Maine's Ethics Laws and Improve Public Access to Information, which is a “concept draft” that would allow legislators to write further ethics legislation during this session;
• LD 859, An Act to Increase Ethics and Transparency in Government Service, which would address the so-called “revolving door” in the executive branch of government by requiring a 12-month cooling-off period before lobbyists could work in the executive branch, and requiring a 12-month cooling-off period before executive branch employees could work as lobbyists;
• LD 924, An Act to Prevent a Conflict of Interest of the Secretary of State, which would prohibit the Secretary of State from running as a candidate while holding office and overseeing the state’s elections.
Copies of testimony on the bills can be found at the links below:
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org.