AUGUSTA – The State Ethics Commission executive director said his staff is recommending that the former treasurer for Eliot Cutler’s gubernatorial campaign not be fined for contributing too much money to the campaign because the donations were made in good faith.

Robert C.S. Monks contributed $1,500 to Cutler’s campaign. One contribution of $750 was made personally. The other $750 was contributed by a political action committee he has supported. He has said he believed the donations were permissible and not in violation of any rules. There was no attempt to disguise the sources of the donations.
The confusion has arisen over interpretation of a State law limiting contributions in excess of $750 to privately funded candidates.

Cutler, as a privately funded candidate, is raising the money for his campaign. Independent Shawn Moody and Republican Paul LePage are also running privately funded campaigns. Democrat Libby Mitchell is using public money through Maine’s Clean Election Act.

Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, wrote in his recommendation that he believes Monks thought the PAC contribution was permissible.

For that reason, Wayne wrote, the staff is recommending no fine. “The commission staff views this as a contribution which Mr. Monks believed in good faith to be legal, but wasn’t permitted by election laws,” said Wayne. “The staff believes it’s important for the commission to find that a violation occurred, but we do not believe there needs to be a monetary penalty.”

It is fairly common for the commission to recommend findings of violations with no penalty, Wayne said Wednesday.
Monks said in a statement Wednesday that he appreciated the staff’s recommendation.

“I think the staff’s description of the facts accurately characterizes what was an unintentional mistake, and I appreciate their recommendation that there be no fine,” said Monks, who was treasurer of Cutler’s campaign until stepping down in July.

Cutler’s campaign manager Ted O’Meara has said Monks’ departure from the campaign was unrelated to the donation issue. Wayne’s staff did not recommend any action against the Cutler campaign for accepting an “over the limit contribution.”

“Obviously, we’re pleased with the staff recommendation that there was no violation by the campaign,” O’Meara said. “I think it was an honest mistake, it certainly was not an attempt to circumvent the law. When it was first brought to our attention, because of the appearance it was an in and out contribution, we immediately refunded the contribution.”
The ethics commission, which meets Aug. 26, could accept the staff recommendation or choose to fine Monks up to $750.

The commission is a five-member panel that consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. The members are: Walter F. McKee, a Democrat from Hallowell; André G. Duchette, a Democrat from Brunswick; Francis C. Marsano, a Republican from Belfast; Margaret E. Matheson, an independent from Augusta; and Edward M. Youngblood, a Republican from Bangor.

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