Gov. Paul LePage has recently made several public statements accusing his political foes of spreading falsehoods.

Now, as the governor ramps up his re-election 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 orders the ethics panel to review claims and “make public declarations regarding statements determined to be false.”

Such false statements could relate to a number of issues, such as a candidate’s educational background, military service or voting record. The bill includes a provision requiring the Ethics Commission to make its declaration if a campaign or political action committee publishes 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 to the public. It’s not clear how the commission and its seven staffers would handle the workload.

The bill signals a possible change in the governor’s view of the Ethics Commission. Last year, he vetoed 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.”

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

Twitter: @stevemistler

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