Former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and a political action committee that opposed his re-election have agreed to withdraw nearly all of the dueling ethics complaints filed in the closing weeks of the election.

Ethan Strimling has been raising money to pursue his ethics complaint against United Portland.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

One complaint about two late spending reports filed by the anti-Strimling committee, Unite Portland, remains active and is expected to trigger a fine against the group next week, Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, said Thursday.

“The Strimling campaign and Unite Portland have withdrawn the complaints filed against each other with the Portland City Clerk, except for the issue of the late filing of two independent expenditure reports by Unite Portland,” Wayne said in an email. “At the December 18 meeting, the commission will make a determination on the late-filing penalties for those two reports, relying on our usual late-filing procedures.”

The ethics complaints were filed in the closing weeks of a bruising mayoral race in Portland that featured record spending for a city election and an unusual amount of activity by outside groups. The commission was originally expected to take up the complaints before the election, but both sides agreed it could wait until after the election.

Strimling came in third out of a field of four candidates behind the winner, Kate Snyder, and Spencer Thibodeau, who placed second but still continues to serve as a city councilor.

Neither Strimling nor his campaign manager, Stephanie Clifford, responded to a reporter Thursday afternoon. Strimling raised over $160,000 for his re-election campaign, more than any other candidate. He has been raising money since then to pursue his ethics complaint against United Portland, and sent out another fundraising email Thursday.

The leader of the Unite Portland PAC said she expects her group will be fined for filing late independent expenditure reports, but that the bulk of the complaints have been dropped.

“With the election behind us and with Mayor (Kate) Snyder scoring a decisive victory, BOTH Unite Portland and the Strimling campaign mutually decided that it was not worth expending the time and resources to adjudicate the dueling complaints before the Ethics Commission,” Waxman said in an email.

Waxman did not respond to a question about how much money the group ultimately spent opposing Strimling’s re-election. Post-election campaign finance reports are not due until next week. But the group appears to have spent more than $30,000, according to campaign finance reports available at City Hall.

Strimling’s campaign filed the first ethics complaint Oct. 17, alleging that Unite Portland was late in filing independent expenditure reports, did not disclose all of the primary decision-makers and fundraisers, and failed to include proper disclosures and addresses on Facebook advertisements.

Unite Portland responded that same day by filing a complaint against Strimling for allegedly failing to disclose in-kind fundraising and organizing support he was receiving from the nonprofit activist group Progressive Portland and its founder, Steven Biel, a professional political operative.

Strimling’s campaign dismissed Unite Portland’s complaint as retaliatory and an attempt to distract from its own campaign finance violations.

Wayne said in a preliminary analysis that Unite Portland did not provide enough evidence to back up its complaint and that volunteering to help a campaign, even by professional operatives, does not have to be disclosed on finance reports as long there is no payment for services or other financial contribution.

On the other hand, Wayne’s preliminary analysis of Strimling’s complaints suggested that Unite Portland could be fined just over $7,000 for being late in filing two independent expenditure reports. The Strimling campaign suggested fines of up to $17,200.

Independent expenditure reports are required of any person, group or committee for any individual expense of more than $250 between Labor Day and Election Day to oppose or support a candidate. Unite Portland did file its quarterly and 11-day pre-election reports on time, but was late on two independent, or interim, reports.

After losing the election, Strimling began sending out fundraising appeals for a group called “Swing Hard. Run Fast. Turn Left.” The appeals sought to harness progressive anger at U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to raise money to pursue the ethics complaints.

The appeals all mentioned either Collins, Team Collins or a “Collins operative,” apparent references to Lance Dutson, a political consultant who works with Collins and was hired by Unite Portland.

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, featured an unusually high level of activity by groups backing or opposing candidates, as well as record spending by the candidates themselves.

When asked how often ethics complaints are withdrawn, Wayne said, “It happens occasionally, but not every election.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.