March 13, 2010

Ethics panel to hear dispute over commentThis is a 6-42-1 dummy headlyne yyyyyyy

By ELBERT AULL Staff Writer

— By ELBERT AULL

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Derek Davis/Staff Photographer: Mayor Ed Suslovic welcomes the Northern Ireland Delegation, Friday, April 11, 2008, at the Building Creative Local Economies Luncheon, held at City Hall in Portland.

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Staff Writer

A dispute over campaign materials in a hotly contested Portland City Council race is headed to the state ethics commission.

Dory Waxman recently lodged a complaint against Mayor Edward Suslovic, saying his campaign materials contain a misleading quote from the speaker of the state's House of Representatives -- one that violates campaign laws.

Waxman said Suslovic's use of a comment from Rep. Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, hailing his ''visionary'' leadership gives Portlanders the false impression that the speaker endorsed him. She asked the commission to order the mayor to stop distributing a campaign flier with the remark.

The ethics commission is scheduled to hear the dispute Friday afternoon. The conflict has attracted the Maine Civil Liberties Union, which on Wednesday announced that it would step in on Suslovic's behalf.

''Mayor Suslovic wasn't using an endorsement. He was simply quoting positive things Speaker Cummings said about him in the newspaper,'' said Zach Heiden, attorney for the civil liberties group.

Waxman is in a three-way race with Suslovic and Green Independent Tina Smith for an at-large seat on the City Council.

The race heated up when Waxman and Suslovic traded accusations of unethical campaigning earlier this month.

Suslovic criticized Waxman after she publicly assailed a development agreement at the Maine State Pier without telling audience members she once worked for the company that lost a bid to develop the site.

Waxman fired back at Suslovic for his use of the comment from Cummings, yanked from a Portland Press Herald article in April.

Cummings is friends with Suslovic and Waxman -- both Democrats -- and said he will not make an endorsement in the race.

''He's grossly misleading the voters,'' Waxman said of her opponent.

State law prohibits ''expressions of support for the election of a clearly identified candidate'' on campaign materials unless the endorser has ''expressly authorized'' their use. Candidates who violate the law face fines of up to $200.

Suslovic is distributing a campaign flier that lists Cummings' ''visionary'' assessment of his leadership style between the phrases ''What We Want in a Leader'' and ''We Want Ed Suslovic.''

He removed the ''visionary'' statement from his Web site and agreed not to print more of the controversial campaign materials earlier this month at Cummings' request.

But the mayor said his decision came out of respect for Cummings, and was not an acknowledgement that he was fooling voters.

Suslovic said comments from newspaper articles are part of the public record and should be fair game for campaign literature as long as their sources are clearly identified.

Both the mayor and civil liberties group consider the state endorsement regulations an infringement of candidates' First Amendment rights.

''We're heading down a path where political candidates will end up having to submit their campaign materials, in advance, to the ethics committee to vet,'' Suslovic said. ''Talk about censorship.''

The civil liberties group has backed candidates accused of running afoul of the endorsement rule before, most recently during the 2006 primaries.

That year, the ethics commission fined a Maine House of Representatives candidate $1 for using two-year-old statements from U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins on a campaign mailer.

The commission ruled the mailers gave voters the impression the two senators endorsed GOP candidate Michael Mowles of Cape Elizabeth when they did not. Mowles, who argued that the laudatory quotes were not cloaked as endorsements, lost the election.

MCLU lawyers appealed the Mowles fine on the grounds that it violated his free speech rights. The organization awaits a ruling from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on the appeal.

The ethics commission hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at the Burton M. Cross Office Building in Augusta.

Staff Writer Elbert Aull can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

eaull@pressherald.com

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