AUGUSTA — A leading state Senate Republican is facing up to $16,500 in fines for violating state campaign finance rules – much less than the $105,000 penalty that could have been assessed under Maine Ethics Commission rules.

Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Newport, the Senate’s assistant majority leader, was the subject of a commission investigation, following a complaint by his sister. Cushing’s sister also filed a lawsuit against her brother over the alleged transfer of more than $1 million from a family business to his personal and campaign accounts.

Cushing said he accepted the staff’s findings and didn’t intend to oppose the fines.

“I’m familiar with the premise that a number of the reports in their opinion, and I respect that, I concur, were not substantially completed or completed with information that described the purpose (of the expenditures) as fully as it should have,” Cushing said. “I am not going to contest them in the context of what the staff is recommending with reduced amounts.”

The commission’s staff issued its findings Tuesday in advance of a hearing on the matter but is recommending that Cushing be fined between $1,000 to $1,500 for each report that was misfiled.

The recommendation acknowledges that Cushing could have faced as much as a $105,000 fine, but because of other mitigating circumstances, a lower penalty is being recommended.

The fine is hefty by commission standards, but it is far from the largest levied against a campaign, politician or political action committee. The highest fine ever assessed by the commission was $50,250 against the National Organization for Marriage for not registering and filing campaign finance reports as a ballot question committee in the 2009 elections, according to the commission’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne. The National Organization for Marriage campaigned against a ballot measure, approved by voters, that legalized same-sex marriage in Maine.

The five-member ethics commission is set to hear from Cushing and his attorney, Josh Tardy, at an Aug. 30 meeting before it votes on the fine recommendation. Wayne said the commission could reduce or waive the fine entirely.

“Although they omitted required information, almost all of the campaign finance reports filed by Cushing for Senate in 2014 and 2016 substantially conformed to the disclosure requirements for candidates, in the opinion of the Commission staff,” the staff recommendation notes. “We believe only one Senate campaign report (filed in December 2016) was substantially non-conforming.”

In a memo included with the staff recommendation, Wayne says the Cushing campaign filings should be regarded as late because they “substantially under-reported contributions.”

“Because the transactions were not reported for months, the preliminary penalties reached the maximum,” Wayne wrote. “The preliminary penalties against the PAC total $100,000, and the preliminary penalty against Cushing for Senate is $5,000. Maine law contains very few restrictions on how PACs and traditionally financed candidates may spend their funds. While there may be some public interest in debating whether Sen. Cushing’s uses of PAC or campaign funds were appropriate, such questions of policy and official conduct are outside the scope of the staff’s investigation, which was focused on whether contributions and expenditures were disclosed to the public as required by law.”

Cushing’s sister, Laura Cushing McIntyre of Hermon, filed an ethics commission complaint in October 2016 that prompted the panel to investigate the allegations. McIntyre has also filed a lawsuit against Cushing, his wife and his adult children in Penobscot County Superior Court over the alleged transfer of more than $1 million from a family business to his personal and campaign accounts.

Walter McKee, an attorney for McIntyre, said in an email Tuesday that the lawsuit is still pending and was a separate matter from the ethics commission complaint.

Cushing was reluctant to discuss the lawsuit, saying it involved family members and he wanted to allow the ethics commission to vote on the proposed fine before saying anything that could influence their actions. He said the campaign finance issue was complicated because of his use of PAC money to fund travel he does on behalf of the Senate Republican caucus.

“My PAC is not just campaign-related and I do a number of things for the caucus in my role (as assistant majority leader) on a couple of national boards with traveling so my expenses are more robust or profound than what you would normally see in a campaign finance report,” he said. “So I understand the need to comply with this and have actually filed amended reports on most of the items that were identified.”

Cushing is the state chairman of and serves on the national board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an association of corporations and conservative state lawmakers, and some of his PAC travel expenses were related to attending conferences for that organization.

 

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