Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce asked the state ethics commission Tuesday to investigate the activities of a political action committee that has spent nearly $100,000 for radio ads and campaign mailings attacking Joyce in his run for re-election.

In a letter to the commission, Joyce’s campaign asked for an inquiry into whether Citizens for a Safe Cumberland County and Joyce’s opponent in next week’s Democratic primary, Michael Edes, have coordinated their campaigns, in violation of state election law.

Filings with the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices show that the PAC received all of its funding from a company in Florida in which Michael Liberty, a longtime friend of Edes, is listed as an officer.

“We seek to determine if (Citizens for a Safe Cumberland County) and the Campaign for Edes for Sheriff did in fact coordinated (sic) their respective campaigns,” says the letter to the commission from Joyce’s campaign manager, Dennis Hersom.

Joyce said late Tuesday night that the county’s voters should be asking why anyone would spend so much money on what he characterized as a relatively low-level local campaign.

“What does one expect in return for that $100,000?” he said. “I can tell you the sheriff’s office is not for sale, I’m not for sale, and my staff is not for sale.”

Edes said late Tuesday night that Joyce has said publicly that he has no evidence of any wrongdoing.

“In law enforcement, we deal with facts. The current sheriff is dealing with ‘I think so,’ ” Edes said. “The request (for an investigation) is totally unwarranted and it’s embarrassing. I had nothing to do with the PAC.”

The ethics commission has scheduled a special meeting for 4 p.m. Wednesday in Augusta to determine whether an investigation is warranted.

Joyce’s request to the ethics commission escalated what has been a contentious race. Edes, a retired state trooper, has a chance to unseat Joyce in the Democratic primary because there will be no Republican on the ballot in November.

On Tuesday, Edes defended his decision to switch to the Democratic Party last year after a long history as a registered Republican.

The question of Edes’ party affiliation came up after the disclosure last week that Liberty, a former Portland real estate developer with a history of contributing mostly to Republican campaigns, had spent nearly $100,000 to bolster Edes’ campaign through the mailings and radio ads targeting Joyce.

The size of the donation is possibly unprecedented in a Maine county sheriff’s primary and has fueled speculation about what motivated it.

Edes answered questions about his party affiliations after the Portland Press Herald’s review of his voter registration in his hometown of Cumberland revealed that he was a Republican from 1994 to 2010. He unenrolled from the party on May 16, 2010, and remained an independent voter until he registered as a Democrat on July 22, 2013, according to records at the town clerk’s office.

Edes said his political views began to change after a relative came out as homosexual in 2008. He said the Democratic Party is a greater advocate for gay rights and more in line with his “moderately liberal” view on social issues.

Edes spent the last 16 years of his career as union president of the Maine State Troopers Association, and said he found that as a champion of organized labor, his views clashed with those of Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

“I swapped over to independent in 2010 when the governor got elected,” Edes said.

Edes supported Democrat John Richardson in the 2010 governor’s race until Richardson dropped out. Edes said he was prepared at that time to become a Democrat but decided to remain unenrolled so that LePage wouldn’t hold party affiliation against him in labor negotiations.

For Joyce, who describes himself as a “lifelong Democrat,” Edes’ explanation of why he switched parties doesn’t add up.

“Let’s face it. Cumberland County, especially in Portland, is very Democratic. It looks like he changed to take advantage of that,” Joyce said.

Democrats hold most of the highest offices in Cumberland County. A notable exception is District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, a Republican who has held office since 1991 and is running unopposed in November’s general election.

Edes said his switch from Republican to Democrat has precedent.

Former Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion, now a Democratic state representative for Portland, made the switch.

Dion said Tuesday that when he worked for the Portland Police Department, he was a registered Republican. He then became an independent before running for sheriff, and witched to become a registered Democrat before running for his second of three terms as sheriff.

Although Edes cited Dion as an example, Dion has publicly backed Joyce in the race.

Edes has tried to distance himself from the attack ads paid for by Citizens for a Safe Cumberland County. The reason Liberty funneled so much money into the a relatively low-level race remains unclear, although Edes has said the two are old friends. Liberty has not responded to requests for comment through his Portland-based company, The Liberty Cos.

“(Liberty) is the only one who can answer why he did it,” Edes said.

Although most of Liberty’s donations have gone to Republicans, he also has made political contributions to Democrats he knows personally.

Liberty’s political preference wasn’t the only detail to raise questions about Republican connections to the Edes campaign.

The attack ads aimed at helping get Edes elected were produced by Vital Impact Campaigns LLC, which corporate filings with Maine’s secretary of state show is a subsidiary of Strategic Advocacy. Strategic Advocacy is a political consulting firm run by Roy Lenardson, a 20-year veteran of Maine politics who works almost exclusively for Republicans.

Lenardson lives in Florida, but Strategic Advocacy operates there and in Maine, where the company is known as a political consulting shop for Republican legislative candidates.

Staff Writers Dennis Hoey and Steve Mistler contributed to this report.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @scottddolan

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