Ethics panel considering more sanctions against Portland lawmaker

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Ethics Commission has convened with Democratic Rep. Diane Russell of Portland on its agenda.

Russell, a four-term legislator who lost a three-way primary to run for a Maine Senate seat in June, is headed out of public office at the end of this year. Among other things, she is known as a potent political fundraiser, thanks in part to a 130,000-name email list she has developed that she uses to advocate for various causes and raise money.

The ethics commission voted in June to investigate whether Russell’s use of the list for her Senate run constitute an in-kind contribution that she should have reported. Commission staff summarized the case in a new filing on Tuesday but did not recommend a set financial penalty.

“You may feel that a penalty is unnecessary because it was an easy mistake for the candidate not to recognize that contact information for like-minded political activists that she has personally cultivated through a free service ( was an in-kind contribution, as she has argued,” wrote the commission staff.

A number of individuals and organizations have been fined by the commission before for late filings. They have ranged up to $600 for individuals and up to $2,000 for political action committees.

In fact, that $2,000 penalty was assessed in 2015 on the Working Families PAC, which Russell runs, because it omitted more than $1,200 in expenditures for more than a year. The PAC also paid another $2,100 in fines in 2015 for failure to file reports.

The Working Families PAC is back on the ethics commission’s agenda this morning because of a complaint filed by Portland resident Michael Hiltz, who lives outside the district but has links to Rep. Ben Chipman, a former Green Independent Party member who won the Democratic Senate primary.

The commission, which has several other matters involving filing violations on its agenda, convened at 9 a.m. Watch for coverage.

Also on the docket in Augusta today is the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which is considering Gov. Paul LePage’s nomination of Frederick C. Oettinger of Penobscot to the Maine Human Righs Commission. That hearing begins at 10 a.m. and there is little indication that there is any controversy around Oettinger’s nomination. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Portland woman on national TV: Portland actor Jenny Anastasoff will appear in a national television advertisement on MSNBC Thursday during the Republican National Convention, when Donald Trump is scheduled to speak. As reported by the BDN’s Troy R. Bennett, the commercial will highlight the lack of state and federal nondiscrimination protections for transgender people. It is also scheduled to appear during the Democratic National Convention next week.
  • Blue Ribbon education commission: The Blue Ribbon education commission, which caused controversy when its first meeting was held privately at the Blaine House, was supposed to meet in June, but that meeting was rescheduled and the Department of Education said at the time it would be rescheduled for July, even though Gov. Paul LePage once vowed to pull the executive branch out of it. The meeting has so far not been rescheduled but a DOE spokesman said this morning that Deputy Commissioner Bill Beardsley is working on setting a date.
  • Election news: Former U.S. Rep. David Emery has been nominated by the Knox County Republican Committee to run for the Maine Senate District 12, which covers most of Knox County. Emery, who is also a former member of the Maine House, will replace Wendy Pelletier, who withdrew from the race on July 11, on the ballot. Emery will face incumbent Democratic Sen. David Miramant for the seat.
  • Dam removal: Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has announced a $393,000 federal grant that will help pay for the removal of a dam on the Sheepscot River in Whitefield. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s grant to the Atlantic Salmon Federation is aimed at the Cooper’s Mills Dam, the removal of which will cost $800,000, and allow better passage of Atlantic salmon, herring, and other fish.
  • Puppy-kicking case continued: A case against Michael Hein of Augusta for allegedly kicking a puppy last November on the Kennebec River Rail Trail has been continued, according to the Kennebec Journal. The dispositional hearing has not yet been rescheduled. Hein is the former director of the Christian Civic League of Maine
  • Business tour: Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin will visit the Tasman Leather Tannery in Hartland and Newport Industrial Fabrication, Inc. today. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Semi-charmed kind of trolling

Remember the 1990s rock band Third Eye Blind? How could you not. Their song “Semi-Charmed Life” has been on the radio about a billion times, conservatively.

Not so conservative is the band itself, apparently. The band is making headlines today for a concert it hosted Tuesday in Cleveland, the site of the Republican National Convention. Singer Stephen Jenkins targeted convention goers in the crowd by discussing his gay cousins and the band’s rejection the Republican party’s anti-LGBT platform, according to The Daily Beast.

“To love this song is to take into your heart the message, and to actually, actually, have a feeling to arrive and move forward, and not live your life in fear, and imposing that fear on other people,” said Jenkins to a chorus of boos. The band then played another of its hits, “Jumper,” which is today’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.