The staff of the Maine ethics commission recommends no further investigation into ties between a Republican state senator from Bangor and a political action committee that paid for a series of expensive television ads criticizing her Democratic opponent.

The staff for the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices said Nichi S. Farnham had nothing to do with the PAC’s decision to funnel $73,000 toward an election advertising campaign targeting her opponent, Geoff Gratwick of Bangor. Farnham was listed as one of the PAC’s primary officers until her name was removed earlier this month.

Farnham, the incumbent, is seeking re-election to a second term in Senate District 32, which includes Bangor and Hermon. Gratwick, a rheumatologist, is being termed out of the Bangor City Council next month after serving nine years.

Members of the full ethics commission will meet Wednesday in Augusta, where they are expected to reject or accept the staff’s recommendation. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m.

“I kept asking people to suspend judgement and let the ethics commission do their job,” Farnham said Thursday night when reached at home. “I knew all along that there would be no case here.”

Earlier this month, the Maine Democratic Party filed a complaint with the ethics commission alleging that Farnham, whose campaign receives public funding, violated a Maine Clean Election Act provision that prohibits Clean Election candidates from coordinating with political action committees.

At the time, the Portland Press Herald reported that Farnham was the primary fundraiser and authorizing agent for the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC. Democrats asked the ethics commission to disqualify her as a Clean Election candidate and to assess civil penalties.

But the ethics commission staff is recommending no further action be taken against Farnham, who was first listed as one of the PAC’s officers in March. Her name was removed Oct. 5.

“The weight of the evidence received to date strongly suggests that the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC purchased the television advertising against Geoffrey Gratwick without any involvement by Sen. Nichi Farnham,” the staff said in a report filed with Executive Director Jonathan Wayne on Wednesday.

Staffers said the PAC set up procedures, including hiring a political consultant, to make sure there was a “firewall” between advertising expenditures and Republican candidates.

Farnham’s opponent says the television ads have hurt his campaign. They characterize him as “Doctor Tax” — an assertion he says was inaccurately based on his record as a city councilor.

Gratwick said Farnham served on the Bangor City Council before he took office in 2003 and that city taxes increased at a faster pace during her tenure than in his.

“If I’m Doctor Tax, then she is grandma tax,” he said Thursday night. “The evidence I’ve seen (against Farnham) is pretty compelling,” Gratwick added. “If this is allowed to stand, it’s going to create an increasing cynicism about our government systems. If the people who make the laws don’t have to obey the laws, what kind of message does that send?”

Ben Grant, chairman of Maine’s Democratic Party, said staff recommendations have been overturned by members of the ethics commission in the past. He feels strongly that this will be one of those instances.

“I feel the commission’s staff didn’t understand the seriousness of the allegations against her,” Grant said. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse for someone in her position. It just doesn’t pass muster with me.”

But Farnham’s attorney, William P. Logan, in documents filed with the ethics commission this month asserts that “The complaint in this matter is groundless. More than that, it is a sad attempt to attack the character of a woman, who has spent her life in service to he country, family and community.”

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be reached at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com