AUGUSTA – Maine’s ethics commission ruled Thursday that a national Republican group that spent nearly $400,000 on state Senate races failed to file reports on time to disclose the expenditures.

On Tuesday, the Maine Democratic Party accused the Republican State Leadership Committee-Maine PAC of filing reports late for money it spent on television ads, mailings and a poll in five hotly contested state Senate races.

An attorney for the Republican committee, which is based in Virginia, told the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices on Thursday that the group had never spent money on Maine races and that Maine law is different from campaign finance laws in other states.

“Your laws are unique,” said Craig Engle, who participated in the meeting by phone. “The majority practice around the nation is that an independent expenditure is made when (the ad) is released, when you no longer have control of it.”

Dan Walker, an attorney for the Maine Democratic Party, said the group reported an expenditure for television ads 26 hours after the commercials were delivered to Maine television stations.

Maine law requires reports to be filed within 24 hours so candidates in the state’s clean election program can get matching funds.

Also, Walker argued that the expenditure on the ads should have been reported when they were being produced, not when they were dropped off at television stations.

“The law on this is clear,” he said. “An expenditure must be reported at the time of obligation.”

That can mean when a contract for service is signed or if permission is given over the phone, he said.

The expenditures targeted races in Augusta, Bangor, Waterville, Auburn and Hancock County.

The commission voted to find that a violation occurred, but decided to wait until its November meeting to assess a fine.

Also Thursday, the commission found that Paul LePage’s gubernatorial campaign accepted one donation in excess of the $750 state limit. Despite finding a violation, the commission voted not to assess a fine.

John Morris, chief of staff for LePage, said the campaign has received more than 5,000 contributions and, in one instance, a couple from Kennebunk gave via the Internet and mailed a check, which put them over the limit.

The campaign has made arrangements to refund the money in excess of the limit.

“We have done nothing dishonest,” Morris said. “We have been truthful with you.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

[email protected]