The fallout from a bruising campaign in the heated race for a Portland state Senate seat will continue beyond Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

In the coming weeks, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices is scheduled to take up complaints against Reps. Ben Chipman and Diane Russell. And questions remain about a last-minute attempt by an out-of-state group to attack Chipman by delivering supposedly handwritten letters to some of his female supporters.

Chipman convincingly won the three-way race for the chance to succeed Sen. Justin Alfond in District 27, earning 53 percent of the vote. Surprisingly, Russell finished third, behind first-time candidate Charles Radis, a Peaks Island physician.

Chipman will face Republican Mark Lockman and Green Independent Seth Baker in November. But he has the clear advantage of being the Democratic nominee in a heavily left-leaning district – a big reason that the Democratic primary was such a fiercely fought contest.

“This was as competitive a race for a state Senate as I have seen,” said 81-year-old former Democratic Gov. Joseph Brennan, who lives on Portland’s Munjoy Hill and voted Tuesday at East End Community School. He would not say whom he voted for, but did say he had never gotten so many campaign fliers for a state Senate race.



While voters saw the signs and fliers, the tough campaigning also resulted in a complaint that made it onto the agenda of the ethics commission.

As candidates were greeting voters at the polls Tuesday, the commission was meeting to take up a complaint against Russell filed last Friday by Portland resident Michael Hiltz.

The complaint focused on Russell’s use of a list of roughly 200,000 email addresses to raise money for her campaign. Russell contends that the list was her personal property, while Hiltz claims it belonged to her Working Families Political Action Committee. As such, the email list should have been listed as a contribution to the campaign, he claims, and it wasn’t.

On Tuesday, the commission voted to move forward with an investigation, indicating members believe there is sufficient evidence that a violation may have occurred, said Jonathan Wayne, the panel’s executive director. The commission will take up the matter again July 27, he said.

“It should not be understood to mean that there was a violation,” Wayne said. “At this point, they want to gather more information.”

During its meeting Tuesday, the commission also tabled a motion to revisit a complaint filed against Chipman by Portland resident Steven Biel.


The commission had previously voted not to investigate a claim that Chipman violated state law against private contributions for publicly funded Clean Elections candidates. At issue is the so-called house party exemption, which allows campaign volunteers to spend up to $250 each on house parties, including invitations, food and beverages, and other campaign-related events. Nine volunteers spent more than $1,800 on mailed invitations on behalf of Chipman.

The commission voted not to investigate, but members remain concerned about how the exemption was employed and may use the case as a reason to revisit the rule. Wayne said the commission will take up the motion to reopen the Chipman case June 29.

“The house party exemption is in state statute and the commission is authorized to interpret statute when it’s ambiguous. So (the commission) may want to make an official interpretation of the house party exception through emergency rulemaking or through other guidance,” Wayne said.


Meanwhile, there are lingering questions about the last-minute campaign literature from a Washington, D.C.-based group that targeted Chipman.

A mysterious letter was hand-delivered days before the election to dozens of his female supporters. The letter appears to be a photocopy of a handwritten letter from “a fellow District 27 Democratic primary voter.”


The letter does not name Chipman, but directs people to a website that has court filings from a dispute that Chipman had with a tenant five years ago.

Chipman said he received calls and emails from 40 to 50 women who had received the letter, which they said was dropped off by a man driving a car with Tennessee license plates. Chipman said the letter “was designed to instill fear” into his supporters. “Somehow they got some data from somewhere about women who were supporting me,” Chipman said.

The back of the letter indicates that it was paid for by Washington, D.C.-based Delta Dunamais, which receives money from Americans Take Action, a network of populist progressives working to stem the influence of money in politics, among other things.

Delta Dunamais has filed two independent expenditure reports with the Maine ethics commission, showing it spent about $830 opposing Chipman’s candidacy. The expenditures were made by Ryan Clayton, who is listed as a contact for the Americans Take Action group. Clayton also appears to be a blogger for the progressive website Huffington Post and the executive director of Wolf PAC, a populist progressive group advocating for free and fair elections.

A message left at a phone number listed as Clayton’s did not get a response Wednesday.

Russell said she had no involvement in the letters and stood by her campaign and its criticism of Chipman, including fliers that Chipman said distorted his legislative record.


When asked why a national group would be interested in state Senate primary, Russell said, “I’m a national figure. I have earned a reputation nationally.”

Russell recently received attention outside Maine for leading the charge to end the independence of so-called superdelegates – party leaders who can choose which presidential candidate to support, regardless of a state’s caucus or primary results. It’s an issue highlighted by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the opponent of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Maine Democrats amended their party rules, forcing superdelegates to vote in concert with caucus and primary results, a move hailed by Sanders’ campaign.


Russell, who said she has no long-term plans other than to help end superdelegates at the Democratic National Convention, said the outside group’s apparent attempt to help her didn’t.

“I don’t think this is really what I would classify as helpful. This is not the type of campaigning we want in Maine,” she said.

The ethics commission had not received any official complaints about the letter as of Wednesday, and Chipman said he has no plans to ask for an investigation.


“For me the campaign is over,” he said. “At this point I’m looking forward.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett is confident that the party will be well-positioned to retain the Senate seat in November.

“I’m confident we come out of the primaries united and eager to talk about how we can help make Maine a better place,” he said.


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