October 27, 2010

Ethics panel votes to probe GOP group

The PAC told the panel it won't be able to comply with the investigation until after the election

By Rebekah Metzler
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA -- The ethics commission will investigate a political action committee that recently spent nearly $400,000 on television and radio ads, mailings and a poll to influence five state Senate races.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices voted Tuesday to initiate the investigation into the Republican State Leadership Committee-Maine PAC.

The Maine Democratic Party contends the group was late in filing an independent expenditure report detailing the expenditure.

The PAC filed a report Saturday outlining spending it says took place the day before.

"The primary issue is whether or not an independent expenditure report that was filed on Saturday was filed on time or not," said Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the ethics commission.

At this point in the election, groups are required to file such reports within 24 hours so publicly financed candidates can receive matching funds in a timely manner.

But the Maine Democratic Party said television stations received the committee's advertisements on Friday, meaning production must have occurred beforehand. Mailings were also received on that date; the Democrats said that means they were put together before Friday.

A lawyer for the Republican State Leadership Committee-Maine PAC, who spoke via telephone before the commission, said the group would need two weeks to gather information from its vendors in order to comply with the investigation.

The commission did not decide when it would next address the complaint. The panel has a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday.

Candidates from both parties on Tuesday said the $400,000 spent by the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is based in Arlington, Va., represented an unwanted intrusion into Maine politics.

"I have neither sought out or asked for anyone's help in this campaign, and now some organization from out of state is spending money in this race, and in a largely negative way," Augusta Mayor Roger Katz, who is running against Rep. Patsy Crockett for the Senate District 24 seat, wrote in an e-mail. "I am beyond angry."

The Republican State Leadership Committee lists expenditures in five Maine Senate races, with more than $360,000 listed as opposing Democratic candidates.

The remainder of the spending, about $39,000, is listed as supporting the Republican candidates in those five races.

In the Senate District 24 race, the group lists expenditures that dwarf what both candidates have already spent: It spent more than $81,000, with $73,322 going to media buys that oppose Crockett, an Augusta Democrat; and $7,890 on buys that support Katz.

Through Oct. 20, Crockett had spent about $20,000 on her campaign -- most of it from funds issued through the Maine Clean Elections Act.

Katz, also a Clean Elections candidate, had spent about $19,000, according to the most recent ethics commission filings.

"We were having a normal campaign, and then, $400,000 to buy the Maine Senate," Crockett said. "It's making people very angry, because that's not Maine."

The PAC's expenditure will trigger matching funds for Clean Elections candidates.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, according to its website, spends money to elect Republicans to state legislatures and to other high state-level offices.

In Maine's case, spokesman Adam Temple said "the state Senate is within distance of changing hands. We see that as an opportunity to flip that body, which is why we're getting involved there."

The group is targeting Maine Senate districts 15, 24, 25, 28 and 32 -- all of which are currently represented by Democrats.

Democrats currently control that chamber, 20 to 15.

The Republican committee raised $2.8 million in September from donors largely in the insurance, tobacco, credit card and telecommunications industries. The group spent $2.5 million during that period, according to the committee's September disclosure report on file with the Internal Revenue Service.

On its website, the PAC lists Katz and Crockett's race as Maine's "featured race," including a photo of Katz and a written statement lifted from his website.

"I was appalled to see my name, picture and excerpts of my website on their website," Katz said.

Rep. Pamela Trinward, a Waterville Democrat vying for the Senate District 25 seat, said she's prepared a television ad and bought airtime since the Republican State Leadership Committee spent $70,000 opposing her candidacy.

"You work as hard as you can, then at the last minute, something happens, and it takes the campaign away from you," Trinward said. "It's no longer our campaign."

Her opponent, Thomas Martin, said he was disappointed by negative campaigning from both the Democratic and Republican sides.

"Unfortunately, that's the ugly side of things," he said. "We'd like to see the control stay local, but it's not always our choice."

Matthew Stone -- 623-3811, ext. 435

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