December 20, 2012

Ethics panel fines pro-gay-marriage group

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — The state ethics commission voted Wednesday to impose an $889 fine against a Washington, D.C., political action committee that supports gay marriage for missing filing deadlines leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

L PAC, the Lesbian Super PAC, was launched earlier this year with the support of former tennis star Billie Jean King and actress Jane Lynch. It ran afoul of Maine campaign finance laws in September when it began soliciting contributions through its Facebook page to support Question 1 — the same-sex marriage ballot initiative that voters ultimately approved — but had not yet registered as a PAC with the state, said Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

Even after it registered, the group then missed three filing deadlines.

L PAC donated $40,000 to Mainers United for Marriage, the lead group in support of the ballot question. Mainers voted 53 percent to 47 percent to approve the initiative.

In total, Mainers United raised $4.8 million and received nearly $1 million in in-kind services, according to reports filed late Tuesday with the state.

At a meeting Wednesday morning, ethics commission members agreed to reduce the penalty from a possible $11,558 to $889 because the group said it was unfamiliar with Maine laws and because it tried to comply. The commission staff previously had recommended a $1,106 fine.

Kate Knox, an Bernstein Shur attorney representing L PAC, said Wednesday that the group did not dispute it missed the deadlines.

“I think the proposed penalty is fair,” she said.

The reduction is similar to what was granted to the National Organization for Marriage, which opposed the ballot measure and also missed a filing deadline.

Suggested fines are based on a formula in state law that is tied to the amount of the contribution.

Last month, the commission fined NOM $2,000 — a 75 percent reduction from what it could have been fined — for being 14 hours late filing a report in October that showed an $800,000 contribution.

Throughout the campaign, the group gave more than $1 million to Protect Marriage Maine, the leading opposition to same-sex marriage. In total, Protect Marriage raised $1.4 million and received $36,741 in in-kind contributions, the latest reports show.

L PAC is a federally registered committee that supports pro-lesbian candidates and ballot questions. Among its board of directors is Laura Ricketts, part owner of the Chicago Cubs.

In other action Wednesday, the commission voted to fine Biddeford Mayor and state Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, $75 for transferring $1,000 from his 2011 mayoral campaign committee to his 2012 Maine House legislative campaign. State law prohibits contributions in excess of $350.

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