October 20, 2010

GOP files ethics charge against Libby Mitchell

Republicans claim use of her family members in an ad is a violation because they too are candidates.

By SUSAN M. COVER MaineToday State House Writer

AUGUSTA — The Maine Republican Party filed a complaint with the state ethics commission Tuesday alleging that Democrat Libby Mitchell misused clean election funds in a recent campaign television commercial.

Daniel Billings, an attorney for the Republican Party, wrote in a complaint that he believes the ad violates the law because it depicts family members who are also seeking elective office.

State law says public funds cannot be used to "assist in any way the campaign of any candidate other than the candidate for whom the funds were originally designated."

While campaigning in Bangor on Tuesday, Mitchell said her campaign asked the ethics commission staff for advice before shooting the commercial. Later in the day, her campaign called the allegation "frivolous and without merit."

"In July, the Mitchell campaign asked the staff of the ethics commission for guidance on this very issue," said Jesse Connolly, senior campaign adviser. "Including Libby's family in her television ad is entirely appropriate and consistent with the guidance received from the ethics commission staff."

Mitchell is the only one of the five candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot who is using public money to pay for her campaign. She will be entitled to as much as $1.2 million to pay expenses leading up to the election.

The ad, called "Family," features each of Mitchell's four adult children talking about why they returned to Maine to live and raise families.

Her husband, James, who is running for election as Kennebec County probate judge, is shown in the commercial; her daughter Emily Mitchell, who is running for the Maine House as a clean election candidate; and her son Will Mitchell, who is running for Portland City Council, say a few words on camera.

None is wearing campaign buttons or signs that would indicate they are seeking election in their own races.

In the complaint, Billings says Emily and Will are "both featured prominently," and he believes that a fine should be imposed against the campaign and that Emily Mitchell's opponent, Republican Karen Foster of Vassalboro, should be awarded matching funds.

"In addition, the commission should consider whether the ad 'assists in any way' the campaign of Will Mitchell for city council or James Mitchell for judge of probate," Billings wrote. "If so, that would be another basis for finding a violation."

The issue is scheduled to come before the five-member panel when it meets at 9 a.m. today in Augusta.

Also, the commission will hear a complaint filed by the Maine Democratic Party alleging that Republican Paul LePage violated campaign finance laws by failing to report an in-kind contribution in the form of a company car.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@mainetoday.com

 

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