The Maine Ethics Commission ruled in separate cases Wednesday that a state Senate candidate and an out-of-state political action group did not properly disclose the funding sources for campaign communications – a violation of the state’s campaign finance law.

The commission unanimously found that Republican Rep. Sue Bernard’s state Senate campaign violated the law by failing to disclose that her campaign paid for a letter supporting Bernard that an Aroostook County resident sent to others in the district.

And the Washington, D.C.-based PAC American Leadership Committee – Maine, failed to disclose its top three funders in a series of mailers and internet ads opposing Republican legislative candidates.

The commission did not rule on a third complaint against Maine Families First, a PAC controlled by the Virginia-based conservative group American Principals Project and funded entirely by conservative megadonor Thomas Klingenstein, who has donated at least $1 million to the group.

Bernard, of Caribou, was fined $75 by the commission after accepting responsibility for not ensuring that letters sent by volunteers included the necessary disclosures. She said her campaign sent seven different letters, two of which lacked the funding disclosures. Bernard blamed the printer for not including the disclosure on one letter and accepted responsibility for not including it on another.

“We can’t seem to figure out when the disclaimer got dropped,” Bernard said. “I will take full responsibility, obviously.”


Commissioners deemed it an honest mistake, not an intentional effort to deceive voters. William Schneider, a Republican who chairs the commission, originally suggested a $25 fine, but independent Dennis Marble moved to increase it to $75. The fine was approved in a 3-2 vote.

Bernard is trying to unseat Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, in the most expensive legislative race in the state. As of Tuesday, outside groups have spent more than $891,000 trying to influence voters. That does not include spending by candidates.

The commission also found that American Leadership Committee – Maine, which has spent more than $350,000 supporting Democratic legislative candidates and opposing Republicans, did not disclose its top three donors over the last two years as required by law. The ads, including mailers and digital ads that highlight Republicans as a threat to abortion access, disclose no top donors.

A lawyer for the group argued the law was not clear and that the PAC will list donors going forward.

The PAC is controlled and funded by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, although Maine’s law prohibits the PAC from listing the DLCC as its top funder. Commission staff said the law requires such groups to list the top three donors to the founding organization, in this case the DLCC.

Jonathan Berkon, a lawyer representing the PAC, said it listed no top donors because the money came from a dedicated account, fueled by small-dollar donors who did not reach the $1,000 threshold that would have required disclosure.


Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Ethics Commission, and commissioners disagreed with that approach, saying the law clearly requires the PAC to list the top three donors to the DLCC.

The commission delayed a vote on a penalty until next month. And Berkon said the PAC would comply with the commission’s ruling going forward.

The commission did not issue a ruling in the third case involving Maine Families First, which has launched a $1 million ad campaign attacking Democratic incumbent Gov. Janet Mills.

Through Tuesday, outside groups had spent more than $16.5 million on the gubernatorial race, with all of that spending aimed at Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Independent Sam Hunkler, a political novice, is also running and has a self-imposed budget of $5,000.

A complaint filed against Maine Families First said the PAC had only disclosed $100,000 in donations from Klingenstein on its most recent campaign filing even though it launched a $1 million TV ad buy shortly after the reporting deadline.

Klingenstein, a conservative megadonor and chairman of the California-based right-wing thinktank the Claremont Institute, believes the United States is currently in “a cold civil war” over the American way of life between “those who think America is good and those who think America is bad,” according to his website.


Joseph Vanderhulst, who represented the PAC before the Ethics Commission, said the group has complied with all state election laws, noting that outside groups are only required to provide regular updates on independent spending, while contributions are only reported periodically. The donation in question will show up on the report due Friday, he said. Vanderhulst also said that the TV ads disclosed Klingenstein as the group’s top donor, as required by law.

APP President Terry Schilling, who controls the Maine Families First PAC, said in an affidavit to the commission that Klingenstein is the sole donor for the PAC and that he did not pledge any future donations within the previous reporting period, which would have triggered disclosure.

The commission asked Wayne and staff to gather more information about that financial relationship before voting on whether a violation occurred.

Wednesday marked the first day the independent expenditures from outside groups need to be reported within 24 hours. Prior to that, such spending needed to be reported within 48 hours.

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