October 3, 2010

Worries cropped up early in Richardson's campaign

E-mails about the former candidate's Clean Elections application are released.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA - There were early signs within the John Richardson for Governor campaign that it might not qualify for public funds, a review of e-mails released by the state shows.

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John Richardson dropped out of the gubernatorial primary when he was denied Clean Elections funding.

2010 Telegram file

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Richardson, a Democrat and former House speaker from Brunswick, was one of four gubernatorial candidates who sought to participate in the state's Clean Elections system prior to the June primary. If successful, Richardson would have received $600,000 in taxpayer funds for the primary, or a total of $1.8 million through the general election.

Ultimately, he was denied the funds, and charges have been levied against four campaign volunteers who allegedly falsified documents while collecting $5 contributions required to qualify for the money.

Dozens of e-mails released by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices in response to a Freedom of Access request by the Kennebec Journal help fill gaps about how the process unfolded for the campaign.

The state has yet to release additional e-mails that related directly to the investigations into the Richardson campaign by either the ethics commission or the Maine Attorney General's Office.

Flags were raised about the Richardson campaign as far back as February -- two months before the ethics commission rejected its bid for funding.

In an e-mail to answer various questions from the campaign about how to collect seed money -- one of two requirements to receive full public financing for a gubernatorial campaign -- an ethics panel staffer sent a brief message to the commission's executive director, Jonathan Wayne:

"FYI. It makes me wonder if they will be able to qualify. Only 42 days to go."

Also in February, Wayne notified the campaign there was reason to believe one of its volunteers was violating Maine law by telling potential donors he would cover a $5 contribution if they simply signed the required paperwork.

Wayne refused to tell the campaign which volunteer was suspected. Later, Richardson said not knowing that information left the campaign at risk of submitting "tainted forms," which is exactly what happened.

This week, Richardson said he is uncomfortable talking about the case while charges are pending against his former volunteers. Richardson has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Despite his staffer's e-mail, Wayne said this week he didn't feel Richardson lagged far behind the other campaigns in its application for funds.

"The commission staff didn't have serious concerns Richardson was running late as early as February," he said. "We encouraged all candidates to start early and submit stuff in batches for us to review."

While the campaign did collect the $40,000 in seed money required by state campaign finance law ahead of the deadline, it was a mad dash to the finish to meet the other, tougher standard: 3,250 qualifying contributions of $5 each.

"Richardson turned in a larger proportion of contributions on April 1 (than the other campaigns)," Wayne said. "There was a higher level of disorganization with those."

In the end, the commission not only determined the campaign did not meet that requirement, it also suspected four Richardson workers of cutting corners while collecting donations.

Earlier this month, the Attorney General's Office filed charges against the volunteers, accusing them of falsifying certification forms for the $5 contributions. The individuals facing charges are Joseph Pickering, 54, of South Portland; Denise Altvater, 51, of Perry; Lori Levesque, 46, of Fort Kent; and William Moore, 46, of Brunswick.

On April 26, after he was denied the funds, Richardson dropped out of what was then a five-candidate Democratic primary.

In a statement to supporters, he talked about his deep disappointment at having to end his run for governor.

"Every one of our circulators was given specific instructions from me or campaign staff as to how to collect contributions," he said. "And everyone was told -- and expected -- to follow the letter of the law at all times."

(Continued on page 2)

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