AUGUSTA – The state ethics commission voted Friday to continue investigating a Westbrook lawmaker who was more than two months late returning roughly $2,600 in unspent public campaign funds.

The staff of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices said they found no evidence that Rep. Dillon Bates, D-Westbrook, misused any of the funds he received as a Maine Clean Election Act candidate. But commission staff contacted Bates directly 11 times between late-December and late-February advising him that he had to return $2,619.99 in unspent funds to the Maine Clean Election Fund.

Bates repaid the money on Feb. 27, five days after ethics commission executive director Jonathan Wayne sent a letter advising Bates they were proceeding with an enforcement case against him. While staff were recommending a fine of $200 to $500 against Bates, the commission could have imposed a penalty of up to $10,000. Clean elections candidates receive public campaign financing in return for agreeing to forgo private donations, except small “seed” or qualifying donations.

“I am happy to say that he did return the money and he has been very cooperative with us in terms of understanding our need to look at his bank accounts,” Wayne told the five commission members on Friday. “The money that he returned to us was, indeed, just sitting there in his campaign account all of this time. It wasn’t misused at all and we can’t see any evidence that he misspent or misused this money. But he was slow in returning it to us.”

Wayne recommended – and the commission endorsed – allowing his staff to continue examining Bates’ financial records, however, after noticing additional potential issues going back to the 2014 campaign. One of those potential issues was that Bates reportedly held onto $330.29 in unspent clean elections funds from his 2014 and used it during his 2016 campaign, which is against the rules. Wayne told commissioners that staff were “withholding judgment” on the additional concerns until they had a chance to sit down with Bates.

Afterward, Bates was apologetic for the delay and thanked ethics commission staff for their work with him. He explained that the bank he uses would only allow him to withdraw money from the account if he visited one of the branches in person. But because he works an estimated 75 to 80 hours a week, he was unable to make it to the bank during normal business hours.

Bates added that he was looking forward to sitting down with ethics commission staff and his legal counsel in the coming weeks to go over his financial records. Earlier this week, the Maine Republican Party called attention to Bates’ case with the Maine ethics commission in a press release highlighting the fact that he could face up to a $10,000 fine.

In other ethics commission news on Friday, commissioners also:

– Fined the Leadership of Maine’s Future PAC $500 for failing to disclose a $3,000 contribution to the Maine Republican Party within 24 hours, as required during the final two weeks of an election. The PAC is run by House Minority Leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport.

– Fined the Prosperity for Maine’s Future PAC $500 for failing to report a $5,000 contribution to another leadership PAC within 24 hours. The Prosperity for Maine’s Future PAC is run by Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta.

– Fined Rep. Maureen Terry, D-Gorham, $200 because she was late reporting a $4,100 debt for direct mailings as part of her campaign. Terry had begun reporting the expenditures when she started paying off the debt rather than when the debt was incurred.