Maine ethics panel aims to close ‘clean election’ loopholes

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re in a bit of a lull when it comes to political news during the transition from the the 127th to the 128th Legislature. Democrats in the House of Representatives will wait until Friday to caucus, rounding out the rest of the Legislature’s leadership positions for the next two years.

Meanwhile, there are some folks already laser focused on the next election. Near the top of that list is the Maine Ethics Commission, which has introduced a slate of new campaign finance rules that future candidates would have to follow if they win legislative approval.

Some of the new rules, according to Jonathan Wayne, the ethics commission’s executive director, are the result of a 2015 referendum that was initiated by citizen petition. Other rules are being suggested by the commission in response to issues that have come up in the course of policing campaign finance laws.

“In some cases we’re just putting into rules what our current practices are,” said Wayne.

The new rule proposals are as follows:

  • Doubling the amount of seed money contributions that legislative candidates can collect and eliminating the requirement for gubernatorial candidates to collect seed money. (An earlier version of this post incorrectly said seed money contributions come in $5 increments. They can be up to $100 per individual.)
  • Allowing candidates to collect additional qualifying contributions.
  • Barring candidates from making payments of more than $50 in Maine Clean Election Act funds in cash.
  • Defining “fraudulent qualifying contributions” to guard against improper collections of qualifying contributions. This is to prevent candidates from paying for qualifying contributions and telling the commission they were from someone else.
  • Requiring gubernatorial candidates to designate one or more compliance officers to oversee the collection of qualifying contributions and to submit a written compliance plan to the commission.

The commission will hold a public hearing on these rules on Dec. 8 at its headquarters in Augusta. Written comments can be emailed to until 5 p.m. on Dec. 19. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Maine energy czar leaving: Patrick Woodcock, who has led Gov. Paul LePage’s energy office since January 2013, will leave that post in early December. Woodcock, who worked in Washington for former Sen. Olympia Snowe, was considered an effective bridge between the administration, legislators and the Maine Public Utilities Commission. He succeeded Ken Fletcher. No word on a successor was immediately available.
  • Recount recount: Three legislative candidates who lost in close races according to unofficial Election Day results asked for recounts in their races but one has withdrawn his request, according to the secretary of state’s office. Republican Keith Cornelio will forgo a recount in the Livermore-area House race, giving the victory to Democrat Christina Riley. Recounts in two other House races in Districts 121 and 78 have yet to be scheduled.
  • Who is Steve Bannon?: Steve Bannon, who took over as CEO of the Trump campaign in August — and who quietly directed Trump to an election victory — has been chosen as a senior counselor for the Trump presidency. The former Breitbart News executive chairman is being labeled by some as a white supremacist and is this week’s lightning rod for negative media coverage when it comes to Trump’s transition to the White House. LePage, who is in Florida for a Republican Governors Association Conference, never heard of him, according to a McClatchy report on the conference. “I don’t know anything about him,” said LePage. “Is he on the staff?”
  • Celebrating adopters, adoptees: The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is celebrating Adoption Awareness Month by thanking the 1,145 individuals and families in Maine that have adopted 1,746 children since 2011. This year alone, 295 children have been adopted through DHHS. Despite those impressive numbers, there is still a pronounced need. A startling 1,965 Maine children remain in state custody. For information about how to become an adoptive or foster parent, call Kristi Poole at DHHS, (207) 624-7966 or click here.
  • Congress and cars that drive themselves: Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine will co-chair a hearing this afternoon that explores the role of government in the proliferation of self-driving and automated vehicles. In focus at today’s hearing will be the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recently issued Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.

Reading list

The New York Times and ‘The two Americas’

Someone at The Gray Lady is having some fun.

We’ve all seen the 2016 presidential election maps that show how some 80 percent of the United States, geographically, sided with Donald Trump, even though Hillary Clinton won the overall popular vote with her strong performance in urban areas and college towns.

The Times separated those election maps in a way we’ve never seen before and re-imagined Clinton’s strong areas as places like “Pittsburg Puddle” and the “Santa Fe Sea.”

On Trump’s map, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and pro-Trump parts of New Hampshire are cut off from the rest of the country by the “Connecticut Strait.”

What’s Maine’s Trump country called? “Baxter Island.” Here’s your soundtrack.

You’re so silly, New York Times. — 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.