After self-reporting nearly $31,000 in unreported activity by his political action committee, Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, will seek a reduced penalty at a meeting Thursday by the Maine Ethics Commission.
The state levied a preliminary penalty of $31,764, but ethics commission staff are recommending the fine be reduced to $1,500.
Alfond took full responsibility for he called “clerical errors” on the part of the Alfond Business, Community and Democracy PAC, but an attorney representing the PACT argued that the harm to the public in the late reporting was “minimal.”
“I made a mistake — one that should have been prevented. I take very seriously the responsibilities of ensuring transparency between money and politics,” said Alfond in a statement released by the Maine Democratic Party. “Because of this, I regret that inadequate record keeping led to these errors. But as soon as I became aware of the errors, I called the board of ethics to report it and to fix it. I have also taken the steps to correct the PAC’s internal record-keeping and auditing process to ensure that these mistakes won’t happen again.”
The omissions were made in two quarterly reports, originally filed in October 2013 and January 2014. The first report failed to include $6,000 in contributions to the PAC and $6,500 given by the PAC to the Maine Democratic Party.
The January report failed to include roughly $450 in deposits to the PAC’s bank account, and $18,000 donation to the Maine Democratic Party and a roughly $20 fee paid to ActBlue, a national PAC that raises money for Democratic candidates.
In requesting a waiver of the five-figure penalty, Alfond’s attorney argued that “the harm suffered by the public in this case is in no way commensurate with such an enormous fine.”
Ethics staff seemed inclined to agree. In a letter to commissioners, executive director Jonathan Wayne and PAC and lobbyist registrar Benjamin Dyer wrote that despite Alfond’s PAC failing to report $24,500 to the Maine Democratic Party, the party did report receiving the gifts. That means there was adequate transparency for the public, they argued.
Additionally, they wrote, “since these reports covered a portion of an off-election year, the harm to the public in not knowing how money was changing hands to influence elections is less significant.”
Wayne and Dyer also said the fact Alfond’s PAC had self-reported the omissions after noticing a discrepancy in its bookkeeping, and that the group had no previous ethics violations, was a mitigating factor in deciding what penalty was just.
The duo is recommending a total of $1,500 in fines against Alfond, which will be accepted or rejected by the five-member commission at its regular meeting on Thursday.
Alfond said he would take whatever lumps the commission felt was fair.
“Maine people expect to know where money is coming from and how it is spent. I believe deeply in these principles — and I’m most bothered by the fact that I, even though it was inadvertent, was in non-compliance,” he said. “This is a system that works. I will pay the fine as determined by the commission and will take every step to ensure that my PAC remains compliant going forward.”
Last week, Gov. Paul LePage was also hit with a preliminary fine for missing a campaign finance reporting deadline, his third such late filing this year. The Republican filed a 24-hour report 41 days after it was due, and is facing a $5,000 penalty.
LePage’s campaign has said he will seek a waiver for the fine.
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