Last November, Maine voters sent a strong message that deceitful and cynical campaign practices will not be tolerated. Last week, the state ethics commission sent a different one.

The companies of Lisa Scott, who led the 2017 York County casino campaign, and its treasurer, Cheryl Timberlake, will each pay $50,000 of the $100,000 penalty for filing late, inaccurate financial reports – a total that is 80 percent less than the fine originally levied by the state.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices on Aug. 29 lowered a fine previously levied against the failed York County casino campaign from $500,000 to $100,000, to be split between the campaign’s organizer and its treasurer.

The original fine was handed down after the commission found that casino backers had filed late and inaccurate financial disclosure reports that hid the identity of the campaign’s chief financial backers. The decision came just before the vote, and after casino proponents had run a dishonest campaign, full of misleading statements and accusations of questionable tactics that stretched back to the effort to place the question on the ballot.

“It’s now clear they were being dishonest on their initial campaign-finance reports and their finances have been nothing but smoke and mirrors,” Rep. Louis Luchini, House chairman of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, said at the time. “Beyond that, there are so many questionable players that were secretly involved in this, it’s pretty disturbing.”

Mainers saw right through it, telling the campaign to take a hike, with a resounding 83 percent of voters saying no to the ballot question, which would have handed a valuable casino license to one man, Shawn Scott. As the first returns came in on election night, it was clear that the nearly $9 million the campaign spent was for naught, and there still remained the $500,000 fine as an additional reminder that Maine voters won’t be bought, and they won’t be hoodwinked by hucksters from away.

Too far away, as it turns out. When the ethics commission voted unanimously last week to cut the fine by 80 percent, members cited the offshore holdings of Lisa Scott, Shawn Scott’s sister, whose organizations acted as a funnel for all the international money flowing into the campaign. Settling with the campaign for the smaller amount made sense, commission members said, because it is unlikely the state would otherwise get anything from Lisa Scott, who lives on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and has no assets in the United States.


The commission may be correct, and its action on this case – and in past cases – has been exemplary.

But lowering the fine reveals a flaw in Maine’s campaign finance rules. The regulations, it seems, only apply fully to people without the resources to avoid them. If you are out of reach of the ethics commission, lying during an election is treated differently.

The campaign was already getting off easy. Given the commission’s finding, the fine could have been as high as $4.5 million.

It’s not unusual for the commission to apply fines lower than what is spelled out in statute, and we suspect that the people involved in this campaign will be permanently stained by it, as far as Maine voters are concerned.

But everyone involved in Maine elections should be subject to the same consequences, and as this case shows, that’s not how it is.

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