AUGUSTA –– Questioning Tuesday by state ethics commissioners suggest several committees formed to put a York County casino initiative before Maine voters are facing over $4 million in fines for violating state campaign finance laws.

William Lee, a commission member, alluded to a report from commission staff, noting the recommended fines could be $1.41 million and $3 million and asked attorneys representing key players in the ballot committees what they thought the fines should be. The staff report is being withheld from the public until the commission makes its final ruling and determines which parts of the report it will deem relevant.

Lee’s questioning during a day-long hearing before the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices followed a short presentation by Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, who noted the staff recommended fines were not an attempt to be punitive but were prescribed by recent campaign finance law changes, including one approved in a citizen’s initiative in 2015, which increased the penalties for campaign finance violations. Wayne said the recommendations were based on the amount of money the campaign had spent and on the fact that amended reports by the ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness detailing donations and expenses were more than 12 months late.

Wayne said the commission did not need to decide which of two witnesses it heard from Tuesday was telling the truth, but whether the public and policy makers had been denied an accurate accounting of who bankrolled the ballot measure, which could lead to a casino license valued at more than $200 million.

Attorneys representing the committees’ treasurer and principal officer argued the fines should be far less than the maximum allowed because initiative backers were not trying to mislead the public or policy makers about who provided the financing.

The commission, which listened to nearly 12 hours of testimony from Lisa Scott, Cheryl Timberlake and their attorneys, then voted to postpone deliberating the findings of their staff and the recommended penalties until Friday at 12:30 p.m.

The commission also decided to keep staff recommendations on fines sealed following a request from the attorneys for Timberlake and Scott, who gave conflicting testimony about who was to blame for incomplete, inaccurate and late filings on who bankrolled the $4.3 million petition drive.

Timberlake, a political consultant, State House lobbyist and treasurer for Horseracing Jobs Fairness, testified that she found out after the fact that the $4.3 million was coming from Scott’s brother, Shawn Scott, not from Lisa Scott, who was listed on initial finance reports as the primary source of funding.

It was later revealed that Lisa Scott, a real estate developer who said Tuesday she resides in both Saipan and St. Kitts, was raising the funds from a network of investors, including some from as far away as Japan. Lisa Scott initially listed her residence as Miami.

But Lisa Scott testified that Timberlake knew all along that it was her brother and companies he controls that bankrolled the campaign.

The five-member commission, which oversees campaign finance disclosure law, voted in June to investigate Horseracing Jobs Fairness, where it got its financing and why it failed to meet finance report filing deadlines. Following her initial finance report, Lisa Scott had to file paperwork for three additional ballot question committees that provided money to the casino petition drive.

The ballot initiative would allow only one company, Shawn Scott’s Nevada-based Capital 7, to hold the license for a York County casino if voters approve.

Shawn Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slot machines to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine its first casino. Shawn Scott then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Bangor’s successful Hollywood Casino – for $51 million.

A license for a casino in York County is estimated to be worth as much as $200 million.

The commission based most of its questioning Tuesday on a report that its staff did not make public, citing its ongoing investigation. Certain documents generated by the investigation were made public, but sections were redacted. The Portland Press Herald filed a Freedom of Access Act request for the report Tuesday, but there was no immediate response.

Timberlake underwent nearly three hours of questioning from commission members, the panel’s staff attorney and an attorney representing Lisa Scott. Lisa Scott was questioned for more than an hour by commission members and lawyers, including Timberlake’s attorney Avery Day.

But the two gave conflicting accounts about why information on the petition drive’s financing was filed more than 12 months late.

Lisa Scott’s attorney Bruce Merrill suggested that Timberlake incorrectly advised his client about what needed to be disclosed, while Day suggested Lisa Scott had intentionally withheld information about the financing when she claimed it was coming directly from her. Testimony also revealed that Timberlake and Lisa Scott had a long-standing working relationship and friendship that had been damaged by controversy over the casino campaign.

“I really hate to say this, because I consider Cheryl (Timberlake) one of my closest friends, but her testimony today simply was not true. I’m sad and I think she’s probably scared, but I just wanted to say that,” Lisa Scott said.

Lisa Scott testified that Timberlake knew that Shawn Scott was financing the campaign.

She also said she had intentionally dodged questions from the media about the signature drive and its finances, saying the media had never treated casino campaigns in Maine fairly.

Shawn Scott and some of his business associates are also funding a political action committee, Progress for Maine, which has spent an additional $5 million on advertising and other efforts to convince voters to approve the ballot question.

Based on questions by Lee, it appears that the original ballot question committee could be facing a pair of fines – one for $1.41 million and one for more than $3 million. Were the commission to adopt those fines it would be, by far, the largest assessed against a political entity in Maine for a violation of campaign finance law. Most such fines end up lower than the recommended amounts.

Day, Timberlake’s attorney, said he believed the penalty should be reduced to $28,000 because Timberlake had cooperated with the investigation and worked to correct errors in the finance reports.

But Merrill in his closing arguments Tuesday said the law that prescribes the reporting requirements for ballot question committees was poorly written and unclear. He also called the penalty amounts, which result from recent changes in state law and a voter-backed law passed in 2015, “draconian” and suggested they may be unconstitutional. He suggested a penalty of no more than $10,000, saying every dollar donated or loaned to the campaign had been accounted for and the public knew who was financing the campaign and who would benefit from it.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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