AUGUSTA — A spat between two sitting Democratic legislators will go before the ethics commission this week as the 2012 election season gets off to an early start.

In one corner is Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who asked ethics officials this fall about her plan to open an office in downtown Saco, which is not part of her district. Valentino said the office will be used for three primary purposes: constituent services, campaigning and work performed by her daughter.

The new office prompted Rep. Don Pilon, also D-Saco, to file a complaint with the ethics commission, partly because the office is located in his district.

“From all appearances, this is a campaign office disguised as a constituent services office,” he wrote.

Pilon and Valentino will face each other this spring in a primary as they both vie for Democratic votes for the Senate District 5 seat. Another Democrat, Rep. George Hogan, D-Old Orchard Beach, is running as well.

From an ethics standpoint, commission staff recommended that Valentino pro-rate the costs of the office depending on the type of activity being performed. So far, she’s used her own money to pay for the office, but if she begins to use it as campaign headquarters, she’ll need to account for those costs and comply with other state campaign finance guidelines.

In response to Pilon’s letter, Valentino told ethics officials that she came to them early to make sure she was doing the right thing.

“I have tried to do everything possible to be open and transparent with the commission on governmental ethics,” she wrote. “I sought your advice prior to opening the office and stated to you in writing ‘whatever you say, I will do. I just want to do the correct, legal, ethical thing.”

She ends her letter by saying that her move to downtown was meant to help fill vacant office space and to allow her to interact with constituents.

“It is unfortunate that instead of newspapers heralding a ribbon-cutting celebrating a vacant store front coming to life, Rep. Pilon has chosen to contact the local press about his complaint, which will cause negative publicity for the downtown,” she wrote.

The commission meets Wednesday to consider the issue.

WHO’S RUNNING?

The Saco story above — where three Democrats are running for the same Senate seat — is a good reminder that it’s easy to check who’s running for what on the state ethics commission website.

If you go to www.mainecampaignfinance.com/public/home.asp and click on “candidates,” you get a list by election year.

A couple of familiar names have already popped up for the 2012 legislative races.

Former Rep. Brian Duprey, R-Hampden, has signed up to run for the Senate District 33 seat that will be open because Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, is prevented from running again because of term limits.

And former Sen. Ed Youngblood, R-Bangor, who also recently served on the ethics commission, is listed as running for Senate District 31, which is being vacated by Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, who also faces term limits.

VLA TO MEET

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will meet Tuesday to continue discussions about the future of the Maine Clean Election Act.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling means that Maine can no longer provide matching funds in the same way, so lawmakers are faced with doing nothing, which many say would kill the program, or finding a way to comply with the ruling.

Democrats have expressed concern in recent weeks that there hasn’t been a lot of movement toward compromise on the issue. While committee members had hoped to come up with a plan last month, their efforts were stymied when key members of leadership couldn’t agree.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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