July 30, 2013

Ethics panel splits decision on Maine lawmaker

The ethics board rules on Rep. Mike Nadeau, a Republican accused of illegally coordinating with outside ad buyers.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – The board that oversees Maine's election law delivered a split decision Monday in an investigation into whether a Republican lawmaker illegally coordinated with supporters who bought ads on his behalf for last year's election.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices voted unanimously that Rep. Allen Michael "Mike" Nadeau, R-Fort Kent, illegally engaged in campaign coordination with a volunteer who claimed to buy a newspaper ad on Nadeau's behalf without the candidate's knowledge.

The commission voted to dismiss a separate allegation that Nadeau's campaign treasurer coordinated with a group of supporters to buy another ad.

Maine law prohibits candidates from coordinating with outside groups or individuals who spend money to help them get elected.

Nadeau defeated longtime Democratic Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake in November.

Both complaints against Nadeau, filed by the Maine Democratic Party, involved individuals closely affiliated with Nadeau, including his campaign treasurer, Phillip Soucy.

Soucy was also involved with the group that spent $1,475 for ads supporting Nadeau. The connection prompted the Maine Democratic Party to allege that Nadeau paid Soucy to take out the ad, in violation of the Maine Clean Election Act, and that the treasurer illegally coordinated with an outside group to support the candidate.

The three-member commission ruled Monday that Soucy wasn't necessarily "a registered agent" of the candidate committee, so it could not prove any coordination of election activity.

Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, attacked the decision in a statement. Grant also cited a ruling last year that dismissed a similar complaint against former Republican Sen. Nichi Farnham of Hampden.

Farnham was accused of illegally authorizing expenditures by a political action committee in her race against Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor. She was listed as the primary fundraiser for a Republican political action committee that was spending money on her race, but later said she was unaware of the PAC's activities.

"Today the Maine Ethics Commission proved that it no longer has the teeth to hold candidates accountable," Grant said. "Once again, 'I don't know' or 'I don't remember' was considered an adequate defense for clearly violating Maine's election laws. This decision makes a mockery of our system. Until we have a body that truly holds candidates accountable for breaking the rules, there is no reason to follow them."

The ethics commission's staff began investigating Nadeau in November and found that Soucy gave "three different stories" about the origin of funding for the PAC ad.

At a hearing by the commission on Jan. 17, Soucy cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions.

The commission ruled that James Majka, the campaign volunteer, had coordinated with Nadeau. It will assess a fine at a later date.

Grant said the case should prompt the Legislature to take a serious look at the commission to determine whether it "is worth taxpayer funding."

"We have a perfectly healthy court system that may be better suited to handle these matters," Grant said.

 

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

 

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