Five Maine lawmakers – including three Republicans, one Democrat and an independent – piled into an SUV rented at taxpayer expense and took a road trip from Bangor to Nova Scotia in October 2015. They then boarded an airplane provided by Canadian energy industry officials and flew to northern Labrador.

Their purpose? To learn more about a large and growing hydropower industry that some hope could lower electricity costs in Maine.

Reps. Mark Dion, D-Portland, and Ken Fredette, the Republican House minority leader from Newport, said the nearly $1,500 cost to taxpayers was justified by what they and their colleagues learned. Both said that getting into the field and away from the meeting rooms in Augusta was important in helping Maine’s elected policymakers understand how their state might benefit from shifting regional energy markets.

“It’s tough sometimes to understand things when you are drinking through the fire hose of a legislative session, but when you can go and see it, and feel it and touch it and understand it, you go, ‘Oh, this now makes sense. I can see now how this might fit into a regional approach to having sustainable energy (such) as hydropower that’s non-carbon polluting,’ ” Fredette said.

The trip to Labrador is one highlight in dozens of taxpayer-funded excursions the Maine Sunday Telegram reviewed as part of a Freedom of Access Act request for records of out-of-state travel by lawmakers in the 127th Legislature in 2015 and 2016. The newspaper sought the expense records in October after Democratic state senators accused two of their Republican colleagues of “double dipping” on expense reimbursements, including for out-of-state travel.

One of the lawmakers, Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, was cleared of any ethical violations by the Senate’s Ethics Committee. The second lawmaker, Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Newport, remains under investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission.



The Telegram’s request for out-of-state travel expenditures showed that, while lawmakers and legislative staff traveled widely, the spending accounted for a tiny portion of the Legislature’s $26 million budget, and there were no apparent abuses of the system.

The request produced more than 500 pages of documents and receipts. Over the two-year legislative session, lawmakers spent just over $41,200 on out-of-state and out-of-country travel. That includes $15,781 for 10 Republican lawmakers and $25,423 for 26 Democrats. Legislative staff members also were reimbursed for $35,280 in out-of-state travel.

The receipts show that lawmakers visited and attended conferences in 22 states and three foreign countries, including Iceland, Morocco and Canada.

Domestically, lawmakers traveled to all the other New England states except Rhode Island. They also visited Washington, D.C., and numerous states outside the region, including Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona.

One lawmaker attended a leadership conference at Wal-Mart world headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Another stayed three nights in Miami Beach, and others spent time in Chicago, Minneapolis and Nashville.


Some of expenses may raise eyebrows – such as a $16 in-room hotel movie rental, or a $426-a-night one-bedroom studio suite rental in Seattle that included a full kitchen and a pull-out sofa.

However, the records also indicate that legislative staff members seem to keep a close watch on spending and expenses – including requiring lawmakers to pay back funds when they are reimbursed more than they should be.

For example, in at least three instances lawmakers were reimbursed for expenses in Canada that were paid back in U.S. dollars, only to have the state ask for some of its money back to account for the U.S.-Canadian dollar exchange rate. In one instance, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, was reimbursed $1,005 for lodging and $114 for parking during a trip to Quebec City. But after the adjustment for the exchange rate Eves was notified he had been overpaid by $265.

Based on letters and notes in the Legislature’s travel records, the overpayment was deducted from Eves’ next travel reimbursement. Other lawmakers who were overpaid because of the exchange rate were treated similarly, the records show.


Although lawmakers often charged their expenses to personal credit cards and got cash-back bonuses or points toward the purchase of other goods or services, they also frequently covered many of their own costs for travel or found ways to economize by sharing hotel rooms, or seeking scholarships to cover expenses.


The trip to Labrador may be a case in point, according to Fredette, who rented the Chevrolet Suburban and served as the group’s driver. He said if the lawmakers had all traveled to and from Halifax in their own vehicles, the state would have paid them far more for mileage reimbursement at 44 cents a mile than the approximately $700 it cost to rent and fuel the big SUV.

From a policy perspective, the trip mattered, said Dion, because lawmakers were about to be working on energy legislation, some of it focused on the idea of importing cheap power from Canada, an idea Republican Gov. Paul LePage has touted for years.

With 19 hours in the car, followed by a white-knuckle flight back to Halifax through a fierce blizzard, the lawmakers really got to know one another, Dion said.

“You can talk about a lot of things, think about it, and it’s pretty candid,” he said. “When you can have that kind of relationship building, it is really helpful.”

Fredette said what lawmakers learned on the trip would also help them avoid “unintended consequences” as they develop legislation around energy policy in the future. And he suggested that if Maine lawmakers stayed home, they might not be exposed to creative policy ideas that are being pursued elsewhere.

“We have 51 laboratories in our representative democracy, we have 50 states and our federal government, many of them are doing different things, policy stuff, and we want to try and look at what other states are doing sometimes to see if that’s something that could work in Maine or what is the economic advantage if Maine were to look into this,” Fredette said.



Rep. Stephen Wood, R-Sabattus, said trips he’s taken to participate in the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Legislative Caucus in both Oregon and Vermont have helped him gain an appreciation for other states’ approaches to fish and wildlife law, habitat conservation and nuisance and invasive species.

He said many other rural states with strong sporting traditions face identical or similar problems at times, and to be able to exchange ideas, problems and solutions helps inform his work on the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

Wood said he’ll be heading to another Sportsmen’s Legislative Caucus meeting in Mississippi next week, where one of the main topics will be the issue of feral hogs, which have become a nuisance in some Southern states, destroying crops and forests and disrupting the ecosystem. He said feral hogs may not be an issue in Maine yet, but they have arrived in New Hampshire, so Maine policymakers need to pay attention.

Wood said the state is paying for his conference registration, but this year he will pay for his own airfare, rental car and lodging. He said other trips he’s made have only been partially reimbursed but he finds the information he gains so valuable he would likely go even without reimbursement.

“It’s really not like they are just letting us go anywhere we want to go,” Wood said.

Wood said he has attended conferences that aren’t productive, but for the most part he’s able to learn things that help inform his work in Augusta. He said during the Vermont conference lawmakers learned how Maryland had changed its marketing efforts around hunting and fishing and increased its license sales by 30 percent in a single year.

Wood said the marketing firm that spearheaded the effort spoke at the conference, and he was later able to arrange a conference call with the company for his committee.

“They told us a bunch of different things that they were able to do, which we are now trying to implement here in Maine,” he said.

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