The failed campaign for a new Maine casino was very messy

Good morning from Augusta, where new documents filed with a state ethics panel give us an inside look at a rushed, expensive and ultimately unsuccessful campaign by a developer to get a new casino in southern Maine.

The effort was funded by more than $2 million from the sister of Las Vegas casino developer Shawn Scott, who would have had the only opportunity for the license under the proposed referendum question.

Signature-gathering to get on the ballot ramped up in December, just over a month before more than 61,000 signatures were due. It led to complaints of misleading tactics and allegations of nonpayment.

Organizers submitted more than 91,000 signatures, but more than half were rejected by Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. His decision to keep the question off the ballot was upheld by a state judge.

The campaign, which hasn’t granted media interviews, hasn’t said whether or not it will try again in 2017, but its ballot question committee is still active with nearly $681,000 on hand as of May’s end.

But a new complaint to the Maine Ethics Commission about that committee — named Horseracing Jobs Fairness — gives us a look at just how messy this campaign was.

It came from Hiram Asmuth, the owner of Encore Political Services, an Oregon company that was hired by Silver Bullet, a Wyoming contractor, to run a Portland signature-gathering office for the campaign. Among other things, he alleges that the campaign owes his company nearly $300,000 in reimbursements.

The commission is unlikely to weigh in on the complaint, which Executive Director Jonathan Wayne called a byproduct of “finger-pointing.”

In an advisory letter to commissioners, he said “it appears that communications” between the committee and consultants “have broken down” and advised against an investigation. His office only has jurisdiction over the accuracy of campaign finance reports and not over issues of potential nonpayment.

The response from Bruce Merrill, a Portland lawyer who represents Horseracing Jobs Fairness, rejects Asmuth’s allegations, but it also illuminates the rushed nature of the campaign a bit more than we were able to early in the year.

Merrill writes that Silver Bullet was hired under a December contract to hire three independent contractors, including Encore and Lewiston-based Olympic Consulting, to gather signatures at a 70 percent validity rate.

Payments were usually routed through Silver Bullet to those companies, but by mid-January, “the three teams were spending more on expenditures faster than (Silver Bullet) could reimburse them,” so the campaign reimbursed them directly.

Other than that, however, Merrill says payment issues were between Silver Bullet and the subcontractors, although he says that the committee is “unable to accurately determine whether” Silver Bullet and the “subcontractors furthered the goal” of getting on the ballot.

The ethics panel will discuss this on June 29. It may be interesting, even if there’s no investigation. — Michael Shepherd

Former LePage commissioner dies at 71

Former Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Darryl Brown died this weekend at his Livermore Falls home. He was 71.

Brown, a former legislator who once served as president of the National Rural Water Association, was most recently the chairman of a Franklin County economic development corporation. He was an early figure in Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.

He resigned from the Maine DEP in 2011, after Attorney General Bill Schneider called him unqualified to fill the role because he owned a consulting firm that dealt with the department. After that, LePage ended up pushing successfully for a law change that would have allowed Brown to serve.

After that, Brown served LePage briefly as director of the State Planning Office before resigning later in 2011, saying his work was complete in overseeing recommendations to turn that now-defunct agency into the Office of Policy and Management.

Brown, a Richmond native, is survived by his wife, Penny, three children and eight grandchildren. A funeral service is scheduled for Saturday in Farmington. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Gov. Paul LePage will hold a town hall at Richmond High School tonight from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, will host a town hall on addiction treatment and resources at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor on June 28 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.