July 29, 2010

Cutler's ex-treasurer falls under scrutiny

By Rebekah Metzler
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA -- Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler's former campaign treasurer, Robert C.S. Monks, made a donation to the campaign that may have violated Maine election law, according to state officials.

The possible violation involves a $750 donation to the campaign that was received in June. The contribution was given to Cutler's campaign through a political action committee of which Monks is treasurer.

Monks had also donated $750 to Cutler in 2009, according to state campaign finance records. Individual political contributions are limited to $750 in Maine.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, said Wednesday his agency is looking into the PAC donation.

"The commission staff became aware of the circumstance (on Wednesday) and we're going to be gathering some preliminary factual information regarding that," said Wayne. "I had a conversation about it with the Cutler campaign (on Wednesday) and the campaign is planning on refunding the contribution."

Ted O'Meara, Cutler's campaign manager, said the campaign has returned the $750 donation to the PAC, which is named The Citizenship Fund. A PAC is an organization that raises and spends money on behalf of political causes and candidates.

Monks said Wednesday night that any violation of the law was unintentional.

"We made an unintentional mistake, a stupid mistake, and we're glad the ethics commission brought it to our attention," Monks said. "We thought it was an appropriate contribution. We wouldn't want to do anything that was even remotely unethical. I believe the check has been sent back to us."

Jonathan Crasnick, a political activist from Portland who is The Citizenship Fund's administrator, also said Wednesday that any violation was unintentional.

Crasnick said the PAC would completely cooperate with the ethics commission "however they decide to proceed."

Monks is a board member of and investor in MaineToday Media, which publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel daily newspapers, the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and their respective websites.

According to a campaign finance report filed by the Cutler campaign in January, Monks donated the individual contribution maximum of $750 on Oct. 15, 2009.

According to a campaign finance report filed July 19, The Citizenship Fund received one donation for the reporting period that began May 26 and ended July 13 -- $750 from Monks on June 18. The report listed only one expenditure for the reporting period -- $750 to the Cutler campaign.

Monks and the PAC would be in violation if it is determined that the donation was earmarked by Monks specifically for the Cutler campaign as a way of getting around Maine's individual campaign contribution limit.

The maximum penalty for such a violation is no more than the total amount donated above the limit, according to Maine election law.

"A person that accepts or makes a contribution that exceeds the limitations set out in (the law) may be assessed a penalty of no more than the amount by which the contribution exceeded the limitation," the law states.

The Cutler campaign has raised nearly $900,000 to date, which includes cash contributions and $175,000 in loans to the campaign from the candidate.

O'Meara said the campaign had just been made aware of the possible violation on Wednesday.

"As soon as Jonathan (Wayne) brought it to our attention without knowing anything more or without looking at anything more, I just made the decision to write a check and return it," O'Meara said. "We go out of our way to follow the letter and the spirit of the campaign laws and we have never knowingly done anything improper or been party to doing anything improper, and when a situation like this has been brought to our attention we immediately do whatever we can to correct it."

Monks resigned as treasurer of the Cutler campaign last week. O'Meara said the move was unrelated to the potential election law violation.

"He was just looking at other political activity that he felt would be inconsistent or incompatible with his continuing on as treasurer and we said fine and appointed a new treasurer," O'Meara said.

O'Meara also said the Cutler campaign regretted any potential violation.

"We certainly would have preferred that it not have been done in this manner, because it certainly does give the appearance that it was an in and out contribution," he said. "I don't know what the ethics commission will do now. It really is an issue for the PAC."

Though the ethics commission has a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, the issue will not be discussed, Wayne said, because the staff has not had time to make recommendations to the commission.

Rebekah Metzler -- 620-7016

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