Maine lawmakers could no longer pay themselves from PACs

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AUGUSTA, MAINE >> A state commission is again proposing legislation to bar politicians from using their own committees to pay themselves.

Right now, Maine law doesn't restrict how a political action committee, or PAC, can spend its money.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices said that it wants the law changed so PACs can't compensate current legislators or their family members for services they provide to the PACs. Commissioners on Wednesday agreed to submit the proposed legislation, which would apply to any lawmaker with a "principal role" in a PAC.

A similar bill last year got caught up in Republican Gov. Paul LePage's large-scale veto of legislation. What remains to be seen is how the idea will sit with Maine lawmakers, who have previously rejected attempts to change rules for PACs run by lawmakers who say they seek legislative leadership positions.

The legislation would apply to all PACs, not just leadership PACs. But commissioners on Wednesday said they hoped the legislation would draw attention to examples of misused spending by leadership PACs.

"If I have a leadership PAC and want to go to six different conferences around the country, it pays," said Chair Margaret Matheson, an independent. "The good thing about it, it all gets reported."

Commissioner Richard Nass, a Republican, said the point of leadership PACs, which allow publicly and privately funded legislators to accept unlimited amounts of money, was to help candidates get elected to office.

"It's gotten some misuse later," he said.

Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne told commissioners that the legislation follows recent press reports highlighting PACs that paid legislators.

In 2014, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting disclosed that former Democratic Sen. John Tuttle used $17,251 of his leadership PAC's funds to reimburse himself and his family. Tuttle lost his re-election bid that year.

The investigative nonprofit also reported this year that Democratic Rep. Diane Russell's leadership PAC had paid her $7,747 for building an email list to drum up online support for local and national progressive causes.

The commission in July fined Russell $500 for failing to report the email list as an in-kind contribution. But the commission rejected a complaint alleging Russell used her PAC as an "unregulated money mill."

Russell, asked to comment on Wednesday, said, "Any clarities and guidelines that would provide clearer guidance to elected officials I think is a great thing."


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