AUGUSTA – The agency that enforced Maine campaign laws voted Wednesday to investigate whether the Falmouth Democratic Town Committee should have registered as a political action committee when it communicated its endorsement of Cathy Breen over Steve Woods before the June 10 primary election.

The investigation was requested by Woods, who also turned over a confidential document showing that he and the Maine Democratic Party entered a legal agreement last year that kept him out of the gubernatorial race once Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud made his candidacy official.

Woods, a Yarmouth businessman, provided the document to the Portland Press Herald after the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices voted 3-2 to conduct a narrow investigation of his wide-ranging complaint that the state party and the Falmouth Democratic Town Committee conspired to deep-six his candidacy for the District 25 state Senate seat.

In his complaint, Woods alleged that the conspiracy involved various party leaders, each of whom promised to stay neutral in his primary contest against Breen. Woods said party officials “organized and contrived” the election, which Breen won handily, 68 percent to 32 percent.

Woods also said that party leaders, including Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant and Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, encouraged him to join the Senate race.

Asked how the party came to enter into the agreement with Woods, Grant said, “Steve came to me and wanted to make sure that he got treated fairly by the party while Mike Michaud was in the exploratory phase (of his campaign). I agreed that it was appropriate. I agreed to the several steps that he asked for, for fair treatment. It was something that we agreed to and we’re happy with the results.”

Asked why such an agreement was necessary, Grant said, “Mr. Woods wanted the agreement in writing and I saw no harm in it. The agreement was supposed to be confidential and I wish he would have kept up his end of that bargain.”

Woods runs a company in Falmouth called TideSmart, an umbrella firm with six subsidiary companies. He spent over $50,000 on his primary contest against Breen, most of it his own money. Breen, a clean-election candidate, spent a little over $7,000 and focused her efforts on obtaining the support of local party loyalists likely to turn out for the primary.

Woods has also given money to the Maine Democratic State Committee and $1,250 to Michaud, who formalized his bid for the Blaine House on Aug. 15. Woods dropped out of the race for governor six days later during an event at his office. The event was attended by Michaud, whom Woods endorsed that day.

The endorsement event was not part of the written agreement.

Woods said after the commission vote Wednesday that he still supports Michaud. However, he might not have dropped his gubernatorial bid if party officials had not made the agreement to stay neutral in his Senate primary against Breen.

“I’m not sure I would have made the same decisions I made if I knew that the party was going to line up against me,” he said.

Kate Knox, an attorney for the Maine Democratic Party, told the commission Woods’ allegations were without merit. She said the complaint was another example of a history of problems Woods has had with the party.

While the ethics panel voted 3-2 to proceed with a narrow investigation, Knox convinced the panel to seal the July 12, 2013, memorandum between the party and Woods. She argued that the document was covered by the commission’s working papers exemption, which shields documents containing campaign strategy and finances from public disclosure.

However, Woods gave the Portland Press Herald a copy of the document, as well as a Jan. 22 email from Marc Malon, an employee with the Maine Democratic Party who is attempting to ensure Democrats maintain control of the state Senate. In the email, Malon wrote to Woods that the party would stay neutral in the Senate primary.

Malon also said that the party would provide Woods and Breen with Voter Activation Network, or VAN, a proprietary database to help each candidate connect with Democratic voters. VAN databases are derived from the Secretary of State voter data, some of which is confidential to the public, but accessible to political parties, which can sell the lists to candidates or political action committees to help coordinate campaign communications, such as mailers.

The VAN list will be part of the investigation initiated by the ethics commission.

According to Woods, the Falmouth Democratic Town Committee used its VAN list to spread word of its decision on May 28 to endorse Breen.

Pam Fenrich, a longtime friend and political colleague of Breen, who serves as chairwoman of the town committee and the vice chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Party, has denied that the VAN list was used.

Nonetheless, some ethics commission members wondered if the town committee’s actions qualified as a donation to Breen’s campaign. Those questions will be explored in the panel’s investigation.

Woods said he was happy with the decision, but wished the commission had voted to probe the alleged conspiracy that he said was organized by Fenrich.

According to Woods, Maine Democratic Party leaders told him in March that Fenrich would remain neutral in the race.

Fenrich told the Press Herald that her endorsement of Breen was personal and did not represent the party or the local committee.

Grant said he was confident that the state party had honored its commitment to Woods. He noted Woods’ clashes with the Falmouth Town Council, of which Breen is the former chairwoman. Grant said the state party doesn’t recommend that local parties endorse in a primary, but it happens, including this year when county committees endorsed in the 2nd Congressional District primary.

Woods claimed that his agreement with the Democratic party was part of an overall effort designed to ensure that Michaud would not have a primary opponent.

Grant said, “My job as the head of the party is to make sure we put our best foot forward and give ourselves the best chance to win. This is a vital election, this race for governor and I did what I thought was necessary to put our best foot forward. I’m happy with the results.”