November 4, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Candidate's safe, thanks to bad call

(Continued from page 1)

"There was probably a stack of mail sitting on my kitchen counter," Farnham speculated. "But if I looked at it, it might have been quick or I might have even thrown it out because I was out of that mode."

(Note to the citizens of District 32: How does it feel to be represented by a senator who throws out her unopened mail?)

Onward to Aug. 31, by which time Farnham's re-election campaign was (to borrow a baseball term) in full swing.

That was the day her husband, Doug, and his business, Getchell Ice, donated $1,000 and $1,500 respectively to the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC. The PAC that Sen. Farnham forgot she was running -- at least according to state records.

In fact, the lightbulb didn't go on until Oct. 5, when Farnham, having just chatted with a curious reporter from the Bangor Daily News, had her name removed from the PAC's registration form. That was two days after the PAC spent $72,919 lambasting her opponent and one day after the Maine Democratic Party blew the whistle on Farnham with the ethics commission.

So there Farnham sat last week, surrounded by Republican leaders and lawyers, explaining with a straight face that she's more interested in Little League than in the battle for a Senate seat -- her Senate seat -- that has shattered all legislative spending records. A battle that as of last week, according to Press Herald State House reporter Steve Mistler, was fast approaching a half-million dollars in outside spending.

And there sat the five commissioners, unanimously accepting their staff's recommendation that the PAC be fined $250 while Farnham be sent on her way without so much as a slap on the wrist.

"The commission staff understands why the Maine Democratic Party would be alarmed by the appearance of the situation, given the continued listing of Sen. Farnham on the PAC's registration form while the PAC made independent expenditures affecting her election," wrote Jonathan Wayne, the commission's executive director, in his recommendation against any further investigation of Farnham.

Wayne continued, "If she had actually been functioning as a primary decision-maker of the PAC this summer and fall, there would have been grounds for serious concern and further investigation."

And how did the staff know Farnham had no involvement?

Because she and those running the PAC said so, that's how.

Farnham "says she 'let it be known' that she would no longer be involved in the PAC, although she does not explain precisely how she conveyed this message," noted Wayne.

Now, I'm not suggesting that any of these folks are telling anything other than the truth. And it's worth pointing out that for a Clean Election candidate like Farnham to knowingly remain atop a PAC that was spending money on her behalf, direct involvement or no direct involvement, would be a colossally stupid thing to do.

But by not so much as reprimanding Farnham for failing to keep track of how and when her name was being used, the commission set a troubling precedent:

Henceforth, a candidate who breaches the firewall between his or her Clean Election funding and the nearest friendly PAC need only look wide-eyed at the commission and declare, "Sorry, it was Little League season!"

Also known, in "baseball mode," as freezing them with your slider.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@mainetoday.com

 

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