AUGUSTA — Changes aimed at increasing government’s transparency and raising penalties for late campaign finance reports will be reviewed by a legislative panel today.

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee also is scheduled to work on a series of bills that would affect Maine’s Clean Election public campaign financing system, and a measure calling for a one-year waiting period for anyone who wants to go from being a lawmaker to a lobbyist.

Another proposal, L.D. 1541, sponsored by state Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, was submitted on behalf of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. It calls for several changes prompted by recent events, including increasing the penalty for violating disclaimer requirements from $200 to $5,000 in most circumstances.

“That issue was raised by the commission’s consideration of the Cutler Files website,” said Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the ethics commission, referring to the anonymous site that attacked gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler during last year’s campaign.

Wayne said the recommendation also was prompted by an incident in the gubernatorial primary, when a political consultant for a Republican candidate paid for a “push poll” and failed to include proper disclosure.

Another provision in the bill would increase the maximum penalties for late campaign finance report filings, from $10,000, for political action committees whose spending exceeds $50,000. The maximum penalty would be one-fifth of the amount reported late.

Wayne said large amounts of spending have been reported late several times over the past few years, including in last year’s elections, when a national group spent heavily on five state Senate races and filed a late report that affected distribution of Clean Election funding.

“The commission’s penalty authority needs to be large enough to be an appropriate response to a late report,” Wayne said.

The bill also would prohibit publicly financed candidates from using Clean Election money to buy computers or cellphones with email capabilities.

“The purpose was to make sure public campaign funds are well spent, and if a candidate feels the need to buy a computer to use partially for campaign services, the candidate would be free to purchase it with personal funds because it has personal value for the candidate,” Wayne said.

A proposal that’s expected to generate opposition is L.D. 1260, sponsored by Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford.

It calls for the one-year “cooling off” period between legislative service and lobbying. It also would require any lobbyist to wait a year before taking a job in the executive branch. And it would make gubernatorial transition teams subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access law.

“I don’t care whether it’s LePage, Baldacci, King or McKernan, I think there’s a lot of policy that is being set before they actually take office,” Patrick said. “If you are doing the people’s business, even in transition … I think the people should have an opportunity to find out what’s going on.”

Patrick also said that requiring lawmakers to wait a year before becoming lobbyists is not too much to ask.

The panel is scheduled to consider – and likely vote on – the bills this afternoon.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: [email protected]