Monday, March 10, 2014
AUGUSTA -- Maine's House of Representatives may vote today to request a court review of constitutional questions raised by Treasurer Bruce Poliquin's private business activity.
Both Republicans and Democrats now say they want advice from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and House members are scheduled to take up the issue this morning. Members will first have to decide what questions they want answered, however.
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, proposed an order on Tuesday that would ask the state's highest court a series of questions, including whether recent business activity should preclude Poliquin from continuing as treasurer.
On Wednesday, Rep. Philip Curtis, R-Madison, proposed his own request to the court. The Republican-backed is less specific and effectively asks whether owning or managing a business affects the treasurer's ability to do the job.
A yes vote by the House would send the question directly to the court, without any approval needed from the Senate or Gov. Paul LePage.
Poliquin declined to comment on the impending House action.
But he issued a written statement Wednesday in response to a related decision by the state ethics commission. The panel declined to penalize Poliquin for not listing business interests on a financial disclosure form filed last year.
"I have at all times acted in good faith with regard to disclosing my sources of income. At no time have any of these sources of income conflicted with my duties and responsibilities as" treasurer, he said.
Poliquin, a Republican who ran for governor in 2010, appeared before the Phippsburg Planning Board last year to request permission to expand one of his businesses, the Popham Beach Club. He also is the sole owner of a company developing condominiums near the beach club in Phippsburg.
The Maine Constitution, meanwhile, says the treasurer cannot engage in "trade or commerce."
Attorney General William Scheider has said Poliquin should not actively manage his businesses, such as appearing before a Planning Board, in the future. Poliquin has said it was mistake to attend the Planning Board and that others manage his businesses.
However, Dion told fellow members of the House on Wednesday that they also need to know if Poliquin has already violated the constitution and whether that means he should be removed.
"We have taken an oath in defense of (the Maine constitution)," Dion said. "We have an obligation and a duty to ensure that it is enforced and preserved."
Dion said he welcomed the decision by Republicans to seek the court's advice, even if they want to submit an alternative set of questions.
"It's a credit to the majority that they agree these question have to go to the court," Dion said during an interview.
Dion's proposed request, which includes details of Poliquin's business activity and a list of seven questions, is intended to make sure the court provides specific answers, he said.
Curtis said Republicans proposed the alternative in part to narrow down the request, however. "We want to shape the questions that are asked. I'd like to take the politics out of it," he said.
The Republican version does not include questions that Dion poses about the legal steps for removing the treasurer from office, for example.
House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said that legal process is already clear. Nutting also said he does not believe Poliquin's appearance before the Planning Board should disqualify him from continuing as treasurer.
Meanwhile, Poliquin's business activity also led to a case decided Wednesday by the state's ethics commission.
The Maine Democratic Party complained that Poliquin failed to disclose all business ties and sources of income on a form he was required to file last year shortly after becoming treasurer. Poliquin did not disclose that he is the sole agent for Dirigo Holdings LLC, which planned to develop 69 condominium units at an estimated cost of $17 million in Popham Woods.
Poliquin did not make any money from the project in the previous year, which is why he did not disclose it, his attorney, David Barry, said Wednesday.
Poliquin did not attend the ethics commission meeting because he is tending to his mother in Florida, Barry said.
"It was not ever his desire or attempt to hide information," Barry said.
Once he was alerted by the commission that his form was not complete, Poliquin filed an amended form that disclosed his ownership of Dirigo Holdings, and that he received $9,750 in receipts from membership dues at Popham Beach Club.
He also listed $13,000 in non-cash income from Marshall Mall Associates in Pennsylvania and a small amount of income his son made during a summer internship.
The ethics commission voted 4-1 to find that Poliquin substantially complied with the law in his original filing but that it was incomplete. The filing is now complete, it ruled, and no fine was warranted.
Commission Chairman Walter McKee voted against the motion because he did not believe Poliquin substantially complied in his original filing.
MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan M Cover contributed to this report.
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