Gov. Paul LePage has recently made several public statements in which he’s accused his political foes of spreading falsehoods. 

Now, as the governor ramps up his reelection bid, he wants the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to investigate erroneous campaign claims if a candidate for statewide office files a complaint. LePage has submitted an after deadline bill that order the ethics panel to review claims and "make public declarations regarding statements determined to be false."

According to the bill, such false statements could relate to a number of issues, a candidate’s education background, military service or voting record. The bill includes a provision mandating the Ethics Commission to make its declaration if a campaign or political action committee publishes or distributes a false statement either knowingly or with "reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."

In other words, the Ethics Commission could become very busy if the governor’s bill passes. Claims of false campaign statements are nearly a daily occurrence during an election year. Newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald, have deployed fact-checkers to review ads for false and misleading statements. The governor’s proposal would make this a function of the Ethics Commission.

A declaration of a false statement by the Ethics Commission could carry significant weight in the eyes of the public. However, one wonders if the commission and its seven-member staff can handle the voluminous workload that could accompany the proposal.  

The bill signals a possible change in the governor’s view of the Ethics Commission. Last year he voted a proposal that would have imposed stiffer penalties for late filings by candidates and campaign committees. In his veto message, he wrote that the Ethics Commission had become a place for "political warfare," and used by political operatives to "win a headline leading up to Election Day."