Lawmaker sanctioned by Ethics Commission present during 2nd session

Rep. David R. Burns, R-Alfred, was in his seat and his name on the board Wednesday when the 125th Legislature convened its 2nd regular session.

In late November, the Maine Ethics Commission ruled unanimously that Burns committed several violations of the Maine Clean Elections Act during the 2010 election. The commission also recommended that the Maine Attorney General’s office investigate Burns’ conduct for possible criminal prosecution.

Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, said he believes Burns should resign and said Republican leaders should call for that resignation.

“He misused campaign funds, which means as a Clean Elections candidate, he stole public money,” Carey said. “He needs to face the music. I was surprised to see him here today.”

Jim Cyr, spokesman for House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said the speaker is taking a wait-and-see approach with the AG’s office investigation. Cyr said he doesn’t believe anyone has called for Burns’ resignation.

Burns, a first-time House member who was elected in November 2010, represents House District 138 and the towns of Alfred, Limerick, Newfield and Shapleigh. He was randomly selected by the Maine Ethics Commission last year to submit to an audit of his campaign finance practice.

The Burns’ audit, according to Ethics Commission Director Jonathan Wayne, revealed a level of misconduct that has rarely been seen by his office.

Burns’ audit report included eight individual instances where Burns reportedly violated provisions of the Maine Clean Elections Act. As a clean elections candidate, Burns received public funds to run his campaign and, in return, was subject to strict guidelines for how those funds were spent and how they expenditures were recorded.

That report revealed, among other things, that Burns co-mingled campaign finances with personal finances, falsified receipts, used public money for personal expenses and failed to accurately report expenditures.

Walter McKee, who chairs the Ethics Commission, called Burns’ misconduct “mind-boggling.” McKee also said he was bothered by what he called “righteous indignation” by Burns and his campaign staff when the audit report was first revealed.

The Ethics Commission recommendation was to order Burns to pay back $2,285 in public funds that he did not use for his campaign. The commission also favored imposing a penalty but deferred action on that pending the outcome of the Attorney General’s investigation. The maximum penalty would be either $5,000 or $10,000 depending on the violation.

During that November hearing, Burns’ attorney, Bill Logan, declined to address specific claims but said he didn’t believe the Ethic Commission’s action would jeopardize Burns’ status in the Maine House.

Asked whether Burns’ conduct was an indictment of the Maine Clean Election Act, Carey said quite the opposite.

“This shows that the system works. When people misuse funds, they are caught and they are punished accordingly,” he said.