November 26, 2011

Probe into campaign spending urged

Alfred Republican's finances questioned

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- A Republican state representative from Alfred is suspected of misusing public money to run his campaign last year, prompting ethics officials to call for an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General.

Rep. David R. Burns, R-Alfred, allegedly used state money to pay a $118.95 bill at a Chinese restaurant, charged the state for gas he purchased 24 days after the election, and reported to state officials campaign expenditures that never occurred.

Ethics officials also allege that Burns faked a letter that was supposed to prove that he paid $475 for campaign signs.

In addition, he is accused of moving money from his campaign account to his personal account, making it difficult for ethics investigators to determine how the money was spent.

As a result, ethics officials allege that Burns spent more than $2,500 on things that were not related to his campaign. They also question $1,882 in reimbursements for travel, saying that is far greater than what was spent by any other House candidate.

When the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices meets Wednesday, it will consider a staff recommendation to forward the case to the attorney general for possible criminal charges.

Neither Burns nor his attorney, William Logan, responded to phone messages and emails on Friday; but in letters to ethics officials, Logan writes that Burns' wife mistakenly used the wrong debit card at the Chinese restaurant, and that other challenged expenditures were campaign-related.

In several instances, Logan writes, Burns needed gas or mileage reimbursement for campaign travel but did not keep receipts. He also says Burns waged an aggressive door-to-door campaign, and that it's not fair for ethics officials to question his travel reimbursements.

"Mr. Burns made the strategic (and ultimately successful) campaign choice to focus on an aggressive in-person campaign effort," he wrote. "The fact that other candidates made other choices as to how to utilize their funds is of little relevance."

Logan provided ethics investigators with letters from those who worked on the campaign or witnessed campaign-related meals that are in question.

Former York County Sheriff C. Wesley Phinney Jr. wrote a letter to attest that he rode with Burns on several occasions, and that they traveled 70 to 100 miles a day.

"In closing, I would like to add that I, and many others, find it very disheartening that David's character has been subjected to this type of criticism and complaint," he wrote. "David is a man of honor, integrity and commitment."

Yet one of the letters was called into question earlier this week when ethics commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne alleged Burns submitted a fake letter in an attempt to prove that he paid for campaign signs. In March, Burns sent ethics officials a letter purportedly from Timothy R. Guinard of Alfred saying that he had received $475 from Burns for 10 hand-painted signs.

When Guinard saw the ethics documents posted online, he called the ethics commission to say that while he was approached by Burns to write the letter, he refused. He did not do any work for Burns and received no payments, he told ethics officials.

Guinard could not be reached for comment Friday.

Burns wrote to the commission last spring, describing himself as retired from the Army after serving more than 20 years, being a letter carrier and working as a self-employed contractor for the Department of Defense. He also has served on the Alfred Board of Selectmen.

"My life's work has been serving the public for 26 years, and every one of those positions I held required an individual of the utmost integrity and honesty," he wrote. "I have been responsible for millions and millions of dollars and would never ever compromise this over a few hundred bucks!"

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