Two lawmakers want the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency to investigate whether backers of a proposal to build a casino in southern Maine failed to accurately disclose who funded the effort to get the measure on the November ballot.

Rep. Louis Luchini and Sen. Garrett Mason, co-chairs of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, have requested an investigation of the Horseracing Jobs Fairness ballot question committee, said Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine ethics commission, in a statement Thursday.

The ballot committee likely violated Maine campaign finance laws by failing to accurately disclose who funded the $4.3 million petition drive to put the proposal to state voters, Wayne’s statement said. If so, Horseracing Jobs Fairness could be fined up to the amount donated, roughly $4.3 million, but such disclosure violations would not keep the question off the ballot.

The ballot initiative has drawn sharp criticism because as written, only gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott, a principal in Bridge Capital, or his associates would be allowed to build the casino. Scott was behind the effort to bring a racino to Bangor a decade ago.

Horseracing Jobs Fairness initially listed Lisa Scott, Shawn Scott’s sister, as the sole donor to the ballot initiative effort. But amended disclosure filings, ordered by the ethics commission, show the money came from Lisa Scott and several other donors who gave money to her. Lisa Scott then listed the donation as if she had contributed all the funds.

Wayne said the commission has already met with the ballot committee’s lobbyist and lawyer.

“We discussed the campaign finance reporting law, particularly the duty to form a ballot question committee and disclose contributions received and expenditures made,” Wayne wrote. “We encouraged them to review the financial activity in support of the campaign and file any new registrations or reports that they deemed to be necessary.”

Wayne said that as a result, the group has formed several new ballot question committees that have filed reports detailing financial contributions from a group of offshore companies connected to Shawn and Lisa Scott.

Luchini, D-Ellsworth, said Thursday Horseracing Jobs Fairness has perpetrated “fraud after fraud after fraud.”

Mason, R-Lisbon, said, “This referendum stinks and there is certainly something wrong.” He said he and Luchini are of “one mind,” and that their committee has a number of options it could still take, including seeking subpoena powers to compel testimony by campaign donors. However, Mason said, he doesn’t know if that would succeed as the Legislature’s jurisdiction extends only to the state’s borders – the companies and players in question are set up out of state and overseas.

“This is corruption almost at its highest form,” Mason said. “(Bridge Capital) has been tied into many shady deals not only in our own country and in Massachusetts but around the world.”

Luchini distributed a press release from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance concerning a $125,000 civil fine the same organizers agreed to pay for violating disclosure laws there in 2016. In Maine, the ballot question committee could also face penalties or fines for filing late or intentionally misleading disclosures. Fines could be in the millions of dollars, according to Mason and Luchini.

Wayne said that if more than $50,000 is reported past filing deadlines, the maximum penalty can be up to 100 percent of that amount.

“These penalty procedures are not dependent on a finding that the violation was intentional,” Wayne wrote in a message to the Portland Press Herald. “Penalties may be assessed even when the late filing is unintentional (for example, due to a lack of attention or misunderstanding of the legal requirements).”

An investigation could reveal whether Horseracing Jobs Fairness intentionally misrepresented who its contributors were, as well as additional details about the funding sources.

Wayne said Thursday that three new ballot question committees were formed and registered with the ethics commission in April to reflect an accurate list of campaign donations and expenditures, but the commission will likely determine that those disclosures were filed late. Wayne said state law allows for a maximum penalty of $2,500 for the late registration of a ballot question committee. In all, the new disclosures detail nearly $4.3 million in campaign donations, expenditures and loans.

The law allows a ballot question committee to seek a waiver of a fine or penalty, subject to ethics commission approval, Wayne said.

Mason said the issue underscores an ongoing debate in the Legislature over amending the Maine Constitution to tighten the requirements for getting a citizens’ initiative on the ballot.

“This goes back to the problem with the referendum process, you can get anything you want on the ballot in Maine as long as you have enough money,” Mason said. “And I’m glad the ethics commission is exposing some of this corruption.”

A message left for Cheryl Timberlake, an Augusta lobbyist who is listed as the treasurer of Horseracing Jobs Fairness, was not immediately returned Thursday.

In January, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap certified that backers had filed enough voter signatures to place the casino question on the statewide ballot in November. It was the second attempt to qualify by Horseracing Jobs Fairness – Dunlap had previously invalidated tens of thousands of signatures on petitions turned in last year.

Shawn Scott led the 2003 referendum campaign to authorize Maine’s first “racino” – a combination horse racetrack/slots casino in Bangor, then sold the rights to the Bangor facility to Penn National Gaming for a reported $51 million. Penn National subsequently expanded Hollywood Casino to include table games, following a change in state law.

Shawn Scott and his gambling dealings have been the subject of considerable scrutiny in other states and countries. Most recently Bridge Capital, a Mariana Islands-based firm that lists Scott as vice chairman, helped fund the unsuccessful 2016 ballot initiative in Massachusetts to bring slot machines to a property near Suffolk Downs racetrack. Bridge Capital’s involvement did not become public until days before the election, and Massachusetts voters rejected the question, 61 percent to 39 percent. Suffolk Downs racetrack was not affiliated with the ballot initiative.

In his statement to reporters Thursday, Wayne said new information now on file with the Maine ethics commission includes amendments to Horseracing Jobs Fairness 2015-2016 contributors, including a report that it received donations from Lisa Scott and a pair of limited liability corporations that are also now registered as ballot question committees.

In March, Luchini, Mason and other lawmakers criticized Horseracing Jobs Fairness during a public hearing after Dan Riley, a lobbyist and attorney, told lawmakers that he had been retained hours before the hearing to represent Bridge Capital. It was the first notice that the company was behind the ballot push.

Riley answered several questions about his client but told the committee he had received limited information before the hearing and would have to learn more about the plan. Riley said it was the first time in his 25-year career that he had been retained on such short notice and with so little information. Bridge Capital did not send any other representatives to the hearing.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at:

[email protected]