A local Democratic House candidate whose campaign is publicly-financed violated state ethics rules when he recently included a discount offer to his used bookstore along with an election brochure.

That was the unanimous ruling today from three members of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which found that Robert Sezak, 58, of Fairfield, had improperly given his campaign a “contribution” from his business under the state’s Clean Elections Act. Sezak also was fined $25.

Sezak owns Re-Books in Waterville and is the Democratic candidate for House District 84, which represents Fairfield, Rome and Smithfield. Also running for the seat are Republican John Picchiotti, and independents Aaron Rowden and Paul Tessier.

“The commission felt it was important to draw a line in the sand,” said Paul Lavin, assistant director of the Maine Ethics Commission. “If you are a clean elections candidate, you have to be careful when you’re campaigning, especially if someone is wearing two hats, such as Mr. Sezak. It was definitely a violation to receive a contribution in the form of a discount he could give out.”

While the $25 fine was “nominal,” commission members “felt there needed to be some form of monetary penalty, while in this instance it was a fairly minor incident,” Lavin said. Its members had the discretion to impose no penalty, or one up to $10,000.

Sezak said today that he thought the ruling was fair and it was a “hard learning opportunity for me.”

“It was a dope-slap moment; I hope it becomes an object lesson for everybody else,” Sezak said. “It was misplaced generosity and I should have never done that.”

The commission’s ruling stems from a complaint filed last Thursday by Waterville attorney Daniel Billings on behalf of the Maine Republican Party. The complaint cited a resident of Rome who found Sezak’s campaign brochure in his door on Oct. 20 along with his business card for Re-Books and a handwritten note to present the card for a 20 percent discount off a purchase.

Billings’ complaint said the discount offer constituted a violation of the Clean Elections Act, which prohibits such contributions “for the purpose of influencing” an election.

“The discounts are a thing of value. This activity constitutes both a contribution to his campaign and an expenditure on behalf of his campaign,” the complaint stated.

Both Billings and Sezak attended a hearing before the commission this morning.

Billings, who said he is paid by the Republican party for his legal representation, said he was satisfied with the commission’s ruling because it “sends a message.”

“We weren’t hung up on the penalty; the important point was he (Sezak) made clear he did violate the law and there was an official finding on that,” Billings said. “When the complaint was filed, we didn’t know if this was an isolated incident or something done on a widespread basis.”

In fact, Sezak in a letter he wrote to the commission said that he “has not been handing out discounts at my store to win votes” and that “I have only done so twice on the campaign trail under the following special circumstances.”

Sezak wrote that, in one instance, he left the business card because of a “beautiful hall bookcase library which could be viewed from the entrance doorway of a home I stopped at.” As a book-seller for about 17 years, “I had felt a connection with a fellow book lover, although I never met the person.”

In the second instance, Sezak says it involved a customer he hadn’t seen in a while and he found out about her daughter’s “joy of reading biographies.”

Before the commission met today, its executive director, Jonathan Wayne, advised them not to take any action against Sezak.

“Overall, I found Mr. Sezak’s account to be believable,” Wayne wrote in a memo. “If his bookstore has not provided any discount on the two voters who received his business card, I do not see how his bookstore has made a contribution to his campaign. I recommend taking no action on the request. After speaking to the candidate, I am sure he will not be combining business and politics during any future campaign trips.”

But Billings is glad the commission concluded a violation occurred because “there have been a long series of cases where there has been concern that clean election candidates are not understanding the lines between personal finances and clean election funds.”

Sezak said he’s not sure whether the issue will affect his chance in the election.

“We’ll wait until Tuesday,” he said.