The Maine Ethics Commission will take up dueling complaints about campaign activity in Portland’s mayoral race, but it won’t rule on them until after Election Day.

Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, reviewed the complaints filed by Unite Portland against Mayor Ethan Strimling’s re-election campaign and Progressive Portland, a nonprofit, as well as the complaint filed by Strimling’s campaign against Unite Portland.

In a memo issued Monday, Wayne told the commission that Unite Portland, a political action committee, was late in filing independent expenditure reports and could face thousands of dollars in fines.

“The commission staff believes that the PAC was late in filing two independent expenditure reports and that the preliminary penalties total $7,052,” Wayne wrote in the memo to the commission. He added that Unite Portland could request a penalty waiver.

As for Unite Portland’s complaint against the Strimling campaign, Wayne said commission staff found the allegations to be unsubstantiated.

“Ms. (Dory) Waxman has not provided the commission with clear evidence concerning any financial activities in support of Mr. Strimling undertaken by Progressive Portland other than the use of the Action Network to send email communications,” Wayne said in the memo.


Waxman, a former member of the Portland City Council, is identified in Ethics Commission documents as the principal officer of the Unite Portland PAC.

Wayne’s preliminary findings are subject to approval by members of the Ethics Commission, and he said Tuesday that the commission will not rule on the complaints during its regular meeting Wednesday.

“The complaints will be scheduled for a meeting in November (after the election),” he said in an email. “The complaints will not be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting, other than in a very brief update under other business.”

The commission, which was established as a five-member bipartisan board appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, is expected to vote Wednesday on an ethics complaint against Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. There are currently only four members because the fifth seat has not been filled.

The ethics commission is an independent state agency charged with guarding against corruption and undue influence of the state and county election process as well as ruling on cases involving certain municipal elected officials, according to its website.

The commission routinely resolves disputes and complaints about campaign finance and election practices at the state level, but Maine’s municipal elections typically don’t produce ethics complaints about fundraising and spending. This year’s mayoral race in Portland, however, has featured an unusually high level of activity by groups backing or opposing candidates, as well as record spending by the candidates themselves.


Portland City Clerk Katherine Jones received the complaints related to the city’s mayoral race and could have resolved them on her own, but decided Monday to formally refer them to the state commission.

“Since these complaints involve allegations of failure to file a required report and to report monetary campaign contributions, they have risen to such a level as to require review by the commission under the aforementioned statute,” Jones said in a letter to Wayne.

Strimling’s re-election campaign filed two ethics complaints this month against Unite Portland, a political action group that formed to oppose his re-election.

The PAC, which says it doesn’t support any specific candidate, responded by filing a complaint against the Strimling campaign. It accuses the campaign of failing to report fundraising and organizational help received from the nonprofit Progressive Portland and its founder Steven Biel.

Strimling is being challenged by City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, former school board chair Kate Snyder and waiter Travis Curran.

The complaint filed by Strimling’s campaign manager, Stephanie Clifford, accuses Unite Portland of not filing required spending disclosures and concealing the identity of PAC officials.


Unite Portland has filed quarterly and 11-day pre-election reports detailing donors and expenses. But Clifford said the group did not file independent expenditure reports required for any spending for or against a candidate between Labor Day and Election Day.

Clifford asked the commission to fine Unite Portland $8,600 and $17,200 for the violations.

Clifford also accused Unite Portland of concealing the identity of its political consultant and other decision-makers.

That consultant, Republican operative Lance Dutson, confirmed to the Press Herald that he is behind a new limited liability company providing those services. Waxman, who served as Strimling’s 2015 campaign treasurer, says she is the Unite Portland’s sole decision-maker.

Unite Portland filed a complaint against Strimling’s campaign, which is getting fundraising and organizational support from Progressive Portland, a nonprofit social welfare group that has been expanding Strimling’s appeals for funds and volunteers through its own email list.

Waxman said Strimling’s campaign should be reporting contributions by Progressive Portland and Steven Biel because they have value.


Strimling’s campaign has said it is not obligated to include Progressive Portland in its reports because the group has not spent any money on the campaign. Biel has described himself as a volunteer.

But Unite Portland notes that Biel is a professional political consultant who advertises services such as building email lists, “blockbuster online fundraising,” messaging and media strategy, and organizing and user-generated petitions.

The volunteer provision in Maine’s campaign finance law does not cover his or Progressive Portland’s services, they said, so both the nonprofit and Strimling’s campaign should report those activities as in-kind donations, which are limited to $850.

Biel said in an affidavit that he has not been compensated by Strimling, Progressive Portland or his company, Steven Biel Strategies LLC. for his volunteer work on the campaign.

Daniel Walker, an attorney for Strimling’s campaign, said the complaint was simply “a baseless and retaliatory attempt to deflect attention from their own violation of Maine campaign laws.”

The complaint filed against Gideon by former Republican state Sen. Edward Youngblood alleges that she repeatedly violated the state’s campaign finance laws by making campaign contributions and receiving reimbursement for them through a leadership political action committee.

Gideon, among those seeking her party’s nomination to run against Republican Sen. Susan Collins in 2020, has said the violations were made in error based on “incorrect guidance.” Gideon made personal $1,000 contributions to the U.S. House campaign of former state Sen. Emily Cain, a Democrat, in 2015 and was then reimbursed for the federal donation from her leadership PAC.

Gideon has since paid $3,250 to the U.S. Treasury to offset any federal campaign finance violations, and the commission’s staff has recommended against investigating the complaint, noting that she did not try to conceal the error.

In a memo to the commission, Wayne, the executive director, said it would be difficult to determine whether Gideon violated the law by making a contribution in the name of another person. “We believe this violation is intended to apply to situations where it is demonstrated that a contributor intends to remain concealed by contributing through an intermediary or conduit,” he wrote.

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