AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature has approved a bill that bars lawmakers from paying themselves or businesses they own from political action committees under their control, sending the measure to Gov. LePage for his approval.

The bill, An Act Regarding Political Action Committee Expenditures, passed unanimously last week through both the Maine House and Senate and now awaits the governor’s signature. LePage, who has not previously commented on the bill, has ten days to sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

Rep. Louis Luchini (D-Ellsworth), the bill’s sponsor, called it a “commonsense” reform. As originally drafted, the bill would have also prevented legislators from paying family members out of PAC funds; an amendment later stripped out that aspect of the legislation.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to be paying yourself from a PAC,” he said. “It’s the closest thing to getting paid directly by lobbyists.”

PACs are organizations that spend money to influence elections and campaigns. Legislators raise money, much of it from lobbyists, for PACs that they run. There are no limits on contributions to those PACs, nor are there rules that limit how the money may be spent.

In 2014 and 2016, investigations by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting (now Pine Tree Watch) revealed that two Democratic legislators, Sanford Sen. John Tuttle and Portland Rep. Diane Russell, had paid themselves out of money contributed to their PACs.

Tuttle used his PAC, whose purpose was to help other Democratic candidates run for office, to instead buy tires, pay for car repairs, reimburse himself for travel and pay his wife and daughter for computer services and for keeping his books.

Much of the money in the John Tuttle For Leadership PAC came from lobbyists and special interests, including the liquor and gambling industries; the committee chaired by Tuttle had jurisdiction over liquor sales, gambling, election laws, campaign practices and campaign financing.

The mission of Russell’s PAC was to “help support Democrats in winning seats in the Maine House.” Yet it paid her almost 20 percent of its total expenditures for “online organizing” and spent less than four percent of its payments to support candidates. Many of Russell’s contributions came from small donors across the United States.

Russell and Tuttle no longer serve in the Maine Legislature. Russell was defeated during the June 2016 Democratic primary, in which she competed against two other candidates for the Senate nomination from Portland. Tuttle lost his bid for reelection in 2014, ending a 28-year career in the legislature.

Luchini’s bill is the second in the past two years to attempt to close this legal loophole. The previous measure passed with strong bipartisan support but was vetoed by Gov. LePage in June 2015.

The governor has until May 27 to sign the new bill into law.

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