November 1, 2012

Senate District 25 candidate Lachowicz cleared by ethics panel

Panel unanimously rejects Republican claims that Colleen Lachowicz improperly coordinated fundraising activities with a national fundraising group

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

AUGUSTA -- A Waterville Democrat and state Senate candidate who made international news for playing the online game World of Warcraft will not face an investigation into her fundraising activities, despite a complaint filed by the Maine Republican Party.

Colleen Lachowicz

Contributed photo

Santiaga, the World of Warcraft character played by Colleen Lachowicz, Maine Senate District 25 candidate.

Contributed photo

The ethics commission ruled unanimously Wednesday that no further investigation was needed into allegations that Colleen Lachowicz improperly coordinated fundraising activities with ActBlue, a national fundraising group that supports liberal causes.

Lachowicz is challenging Sen. Thomas Martin, R-Benton, for the Senate District 25 seat, which covers six Kennebec and two Somerset county towns.

Lachowicz made headlines around the country and world last month when Republicans called attention to her online gaming character Santiaga in the game World of Warcraft. On Oct. 4, the Maine Republican Party called her participation in the game "a bizarre double life," claiming that she had a "disturbing alter-ego."

The Maine GOP also highlighted multiple blog posts and online comments by Lachowicz going back several years that the party described as vulgar and using violent imagery.

Lachowicz told the commission Wednesday that she was overwhelmed with responses following the GOP press release and mailer attacking her.

After the story broke, Lachowicz was inundated with requests from media -- including the British Broadcasting Corp. and Spanish television -- and from other gamers who wanted to support her campaign. As a Clean Election candidate, Lachowicz is barred from accepting donations, so she checked with the staff at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to see if it would be OK for her to post a message on her Facebook page and campaign website directing supporters to ActBlue.

"It was a response to people to stop calling me, stop messaging," Lachowicz told the commission. "If people wanted to do something, here's where they should go."

Ethics commission staff advised her that directing supporters to ActBlue by providing a link to the website would not violate state ethics laws.

However, Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said when he became aware of the language on ActBlue's site, which asked for contributions to groups that are "working to get her elected," he advised her to take down the link, which she did.

In a complaint filed to the commission, the Maine Republican Party said that even though Lachowicz was a Clean Election candidate, she "directed her supporters to make donations to influence her election to organizations including the Maine State Democratic Committee."

William Logan, an attorney for the Maine Republican Party, told the commission that the ActBlue site was "clearly a webpage to raise money for her campaign."

A screen shot of the page provided to the commission shows that 171 people donated $6,126 to the page, which is under the heading "Support a Gamer Who's Under Attack." The page indicates that Lachowicz cannot accept donations, but that the money would go to two political action committees that raise and spend money to support Democrats in Maine.

During testimony before the commission, Kate Knox, an attorney representing Lachowicz, said the Democrats did not know who created the ActBlue page or where the money would go. She said Lachowicz was going through "an incredibly chaotic time" and that the party felt the Republicans had launched "an incredibly personal attack on her character."

"We were hearing from people who were concerned about bullying against her because of her participation in this game," she said.

In a written recommendation to the commission, Wayne wrote that Lachowicz asked for advice from the staff before posting the information. He wrote that Clean Election candidates most likely often refer potential donors to a supportive political action committee and that's not a violation "as long as the candidate does not coordinate" with the group to spend money to promote their candidacy.

He recommended that there was no need for any further investigation, and the five member panel voted 5-0 in agreement.

"Ms. Lachowicz and her campaign performed their due diligence by consulting with the commission staff prior to posting the ActBlue link on the campaign website," he wrote. "The exact language of the post was vetted by the commission staff and approved."

Regardless of the ruling, the Maine GOP continues to attack Lachowicz over the issue and has sent multiple mailers to Senate District 25 residents. The latest one sent this week highlights her online comments and says "Colleen Lachowicz's own words prove she's no role model" beside an image of a woman holding a child.

Susan Cover -- 621-5643

scover@mainetoday.com

ANOTHER ETHICS CASE

In other action Wednesday, the state ethics commission fined the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC $250 for failing to update a form that lists fund-raisers and decision-makers for the group.

The commission ruled there was no need to further investigate Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, for continuing to have her name listed on the form, because there was no evidence that she played any role in the PAC.

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