AUGUSTA – The state’s ethics commission ruled Thursday that it was permissible for former Rep. Patricia Jones to use state campaign money to pay for airfare for her son.

Jones, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, used $395.80 in Maine Clean Election Act funds to reimburse herself for a ticket that her adult son used to fly from Chicago to Maine to help her campaign. Jones used the state money after seeking advice from an ethics commission staffer, who told her it was an appropriate use of the funds.

The staffer also told her treasurer, Warren Bartlett, that it was permissible to use the money for that purpose. Jones and Bartlett listed the expenditure in her finance report to the state after November’s election.

“I do find it difficult to be asked to pay this expense so long after the reporting was complete and I was told it was acceptable,” Jones said. “I am concerned that in the future, other candidates like me can rely on the word/advice of the commission staff and not be told differently after the fact.”

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, said he disagreed with the advice given by the staffer, who has since left the commission. He did not consider the airfare to be within the guidelines for spending Clean Election Act money.

Wayne asked the panel to consider whether Jones should be required to repay the state for the expense.

“We absolutely regret the advice,” he said. “We’re sorry it happened. Moving forward, we hope you find a way not to allow Maine Clean Election Act candidates to spend money on airfare.”

In a memo to the panel, Wayne noted that Jones bought the ticket before asking whether it was an acceptable expense. Only after the election did she seek advice from the commission on whether she could use her remaining state funds to reimburse herself.

Bartlett said Jones had just over $400 left in the account at the end of the campaign, when she asked about using the funds to cover the expense.

At Thursday’s meeting of the commission, Jones said her son worked on the campaign for four days. He made phone calls, drove her around while she campaigned, greeted voters at the polls and repaired and picked up campaign signs, she said in a letter to the commission.

Jones lost her re-election bid to Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade.

Commissioner Michael Healy told Jones that she shouldn’t feel bad about taking advice from a commission staffer.

“The record is clear that you made every attempt to comply with the law,” he said. “You shouldn’t feel that you are on the hot seat.”

Wayne described the former staffer, candidate registrar Kevin Johnson, as a competent worker who often gave good advice. Johnson was a project employee and worked for the commission for only one year.

In his memo, Wayne said Johnson should have checked with a more senior employee before giving advice “on this unusual issue.”

Healy said he thinks the expense did meet the standard of a “campaign-related purpose,” the language in state law that governs the use of the money.

Commission members Andre Duchette and Margaret Matheson agreed.

On a 3-0 vote, the commission rejected Wayne’s advice and ruled that the expenditure was a proper use of state money.

“He didn’t stay for Thanksgiving dinner,” Healy said. “It wasn’t a vacation.”

Commission Chairman Walter McKee recused himself from the vote because he knows Jones and her son personally. Edward Youngblood, the other commissioner, was absent from the meeting.

In a separate decision, the commission voted 3-0 to fine Jones $100 for filing a lobbyist report two days late. After the election, Jones registered as a lobbyist for the Maine Dental Hygienists Association.

She told the commission that she had trouble filing the online report on time because of problems with her computer.

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

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