AUGUSTA – Problems with John Richardson’s clean election application became evident when the staff of the state ethics commission started calling donors.

Each donor is supposed to complete a two-step process: sign a document and donate $5 to the candidate.

When the staff talked to people who said they had signed paperwork but hadn’t given any money, a red flag went up, said the commission’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne.

“We had 39 situations where people told us, even though they had signed a form that says they gave $5, they hadn’t (given money),” Wayne said.

Four campaign workers are suspected of violating state law that governs the public funding system by “falsely stating that they collected qualifying contributions,” and because submitted documents contained “material false statements,” Wayne wrote in a letter to Richardson.

A decision is pending on whether campaign workers will face fines or penalties. Wayne declined to identify the workers Monday.

One worker was paid $680 for “campaign field work,” while the three others are believed to be volunteers, Wayne said.

Problems were found in contributions gathered in Fort Kent, Perry, Topsham, Hallowell and Brunswick, and at an unidentified company in southern Maine, according to the commission.

Wayne said he has no reason to believe that Richardson or campaign manager Monica Castellanos had anything to do with any possible violations.

Richardson, who dropped out of the race for governor Monday, was one of four major candidates seeking public money for his campaign. Candidates who make it to the general election this year will be eligible for as much as $1.8 million in public money.

For each gubernatorial candidate who wants public funding, the commission checks an initial sample of at least 50 to 100 donors to make sure they are valid.

In this instance, Wayne said, once the staff starting hearing from people that they hadn’t given money, it widened the sample by sending out 180 letters.

They found evidence that some circulators had falsified qualifying contributions by getting signatures — but not $5 checks.

To qualify for public funding, candidates must collect at least 3,250 checks in the amount of $5. The money, by law, must come from donors’ “personal funds.”

Richardson met a separate requirement that he raise at least $40,000 in seed money.

In one incident in southern Maine, a campaign worker approached people in a parking lot to ask for signatures. Someone reported it to the commission.

“He stated that he was told by ‘Richardson people’ that, if an employee wished to support your campaign, one of the company owners would pay the $5 for the contribution,” Wayne wrote.

Once Richardson learned about the problems, he instructed those involved to call the ethics commission, Wayne said.

He could have appealed the decision to the full commission, but chose to quit the race.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]