AUGUSTA — A leading Republican lawmaker is now facing two state ethics investigations as well as a civil lawsuit over his handling of assets in a family corporation and the fundraising activities of his political action committee.

Maine’s ethics commission voted unanimously Wednesday to investigate Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing of Newport and his Respect Maine PAC in response to a complaint filed Oct. 20 by his sister, Laura Cushing McIntyre of Hermon.

Cushing also is being sued in civil court by McIntyre, who maintains that her brother “misappropriated” more than $1 million from a family corporation.

The ethics commission vote came just a day before a meeting of the state Senate’s Conduct and Ethics Committee, which is expected to scrutinize travel expense reimbursements Cushing received for a trip to a legislative conference in Seattle.

Two of Cushing’s Democratic colleagues, Sen. John Patrick of Rumford and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland, drew attention to the Senate reimbursements in a State House news conference Monday. They said the reimbursements were improper and possibly illegal examples of “double-dipping,” because Cushing’s PAC had previously paid for the trip.

The two Democrats leveled the same charge against a second Republican, Sen. Ron Collins of Wells, who collected Senate reimbursement for legislative session housing costs at the Senator Inn in Augusta that he had prepaid with leftover funds from his re-election campaign in 2014.


Cushing, who did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, maintains his innocence. He has said the suit by his sister is unfounded and has described the movement of funds through his PAC as an accounting error.

Collins also has denied any wrongdoing.

Cushing and Collins asked Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, to convene the Senate’s Conduct and Ethics Committee so it could review the charges made by Patrick and Alfond.

Both Collins and Cushing have said they welcome the Senate ethics committee’s review of the charges against them, which they have said are unfounded and motivated by the Democrats’ desire to regain a Senate majority in November. Republicans currently hold 20 of the 35 Senate seats.

Cushing is running for re-election in District 10, a Senate district that includes his hometown of Newport, and faces a challenge from independent Dennis Marble. Collins faces a challenge in District 34 from Democrat Jonathan Kilbourn.

In her complaint to the Maine Ethics Commission, McIntyre said her brother improperly transferred money between his PAC and his campaign, and between his PAC and his personal and business accounts.


“Additionally, records from just this past month show that Mr. Cushing received $8,000 from Respect Maine PAC, which was deposited into (the) Cushing Family Corporation’s account on Sept. 1 and then on Sept. 30 a check was written from the Cushing Family Corporation account to Respect Maine PAC for the same $8,000,” McIntyre wrote in her complaint.

On Monday, Patrick called the state reimbursements Cushing received for traveling in 2015 and 2016 “total crap” because he said the expenses already had been paid for by Cushing’s PAC.

Cushing told the Press Herald on Monday that he used the state reimbursements to pay the PAC back for travel he did for work that was related to his role as a state lawmaker. Cushing said he would be amending his PAC report to properly reflect the reimbursements and said he was acting on advice from the Ethics Commission staff.

He also said he was told his PAC couldn’t be directly reimbursed by the state, so the only way to pay the money back to the PAC was to request the expense reimbursement from the Senate.

The Democrats who criticized the reimbursements produced copies of documents showing that on Nov. 11, 2014, Collins prepaid $2,400 of lodging costs at the Senator Inn in Augusta for the upcoming legislative session by expending funds from his 2014 re-election campaign. He later submitted expense statements to the Senate for reimbursement of those same lodging expenditures. Reimbursements submitted to the Senate are funded with taxpayer money, as part of the Legislature’s budget.

Cushing, meanwhile, paid for lodging and airfare for a trip to a summit meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle in 2015 by making an expenditure from his Respect Maine PAC. He then also requested and was paid a $1,796 reimbursement for the same trip by the Secretary of the Senate, according to state documents.


Cushing took “corporate interest money out of his PAC, paid for these trips and then asked the Maine taxpayer to refund these same trips,” said Alfond, the Portland Democrat. “This is double-dipping. It is intentional. There is no way you can sign a document every single week and not know what you are doing. This is egregious.”

While state law allows lawmakers to use campaign funds to cover legislative expenses, including lodging, the statute doesn’t speak to whether lawmakers should be allowed to also apply their per diem allowances as reimbursement for those same expenses. Patrick and Alfond also both called on their colleagues in the Legislature to improve transparency on lawmaker expenses and tighten loopholes that may allow for the double-dipping between campaign or PAC cash and state reimbursements.

During the 127th Legislature that ended in June, the most recent two-year lawmaking session, Cushing collected $28,234 in per diem and travel reimbursements, while Collins collected $18,505 in reimbursements and allowances, according to financial records obtained by the Portland Press Herald under Maine’s open records law. While the lawmakers’ expenses are public records, they are not easily accessible online in the way that campaign finance records are available on the Maine Ethics Commission’s website.

Collins believes Democrats are bringing the issue up just days before the 2016 election to simply “tarnish” his reputation as he seeks re-election.

The state ethics commission also voted unanimously Wednesday to fine Progressive Maine, a California-based political action committee, $250 for failing to disclose it was working to support two of the five ballot questions before Maine voters, according to the commission’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne.

Progressive Maine is supporting Question 2 and Question 4. Question 2 would increase state income taxes on households earning more than $200,000 a year by 3 percent in order to provide more funding for public education. Question 4 would incrementally increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 hour by 2020.

The PAC’s initial registration noted it was set up in order to help Democratic state Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford of Monroe in his bid to unseat Thibodeau.

Earlier in October, the commission voted against a full investigation of the PAC.


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