AUGUSTA – Much ado about nothing.

Complaints filed by Maine’s Democratic and Republican parties with the state ethics commission concerning the gubernatorial race were unanimously dismissed during a lengthy meeting on Wednesday.

The ethics panel also decided to move forward with an investigation into The Cutler Files, a website that targets independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.

Cutler contends that the website, whose creator remains anonymous, contains false information about him and likely violates Maine campaign finance law.

Earlier in the week, the Maine Democratic Party accused Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage of failing to properly report the use of his company car in his campaign finance reports.

The Democrats argued that the car should be considered an in-kind donation from his employer, Marden’s Salvage and Surplus, and claimed that his documented use of it exceeded the $750 contribution limit.

The LePage campaign provided documentation to the commission indicating that LePage has had use of a company car since 1999 as part of his compensation package and is fully responsible for paying for gas when he uses it for personal reasons.

The five-member Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, composed of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent, voted unanimously to dismiss the Democrats’ complaint.

The Maine Republican Party had lodged a complaint against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell for an advertisement she began airing recently.

The ad shows Mitchell’s husband, James, who is running unopposed for Kennebec County probate judge, and four children, two of whom are running for political office in Maine.

Her son Will is running for the Portland City Council, and her daughter Emily is running for the state Legislature in House District 58, which includes Augusta, Vassalboro and Windsor.

Both Libby and Emily Mitchell are publicly funded candidates, so they are subject to stricter spending rules than privately funded candidates. The Maine GOP claimed that Emily Mitchell is benefiting from her mother’s campaign funds because she is featured in the television advertisement.

“The funds cannot be spent to make an independent expenditure supporting or opposing any candidate, ballot question or political committee,” said Dan Billings, a lawyer representing the Maine Republican Party.

Kate Knox, a lawyer representing Libby Mitchell’s campaign, said the ad does not represent an independent expenditure because Emily Mitchell complied with the making of it. Independent expenditures are those that are made on behalf of a candidate without that candidate’s knowledge, according to Maine law.

“(That standard) doesn’t apply,” Knox said.

The ad identifies both of Libby Mitchell’s children by name but doesn’t indicate that they are running for office, Knox said. She said biographical ads including candidates’ family members are a common use of campaign funds.

“It would be awkward, we would contend, if Libby had to pretend she didn’t have three members of her family,” Knox said. “We think that stretches the intent of the statute to a ridiculous level. The value (of the ad) to Emily Mitchell is zero.”

The ethics panel voted unanimously to dismiss the Republicans’ complaint.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@mainetoday.com