Maine casino campaign fights back against ethics probe

Good morning from Augusta. More than 300,000 Mainers have lost power in the middle of a heavy storm that brought wind gusts over 60 MPH to much of the state. Gov. Paul LePage wants you to stay safe. We’re racing to finish the Daily Brief before the internet flickers.

There are only eight days until Election Day, when Maine voters will decide whether or not to approve expanding Medicaid and allow a new York County casino — the latter of which is tied up in a messy ethics investigation, the results of which are expected to be unveiled soon.

Amid objections from casino backers, we’re not sure how much of the investigation will be made public on Tuesday.  The Maine Ethics Commission’s investigation of the Question 1 campaign is expected to be aired at least partially before the panel at a Tuesday meeting in Augusta, but it’s proving to be a complex issue. Backers of the new casino in York County — led by controversial developer Shawn Scott — have filed several procedural objections, according to Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director. The commission will discuss those questions in a telephone meeting at 9 a.m. Much of today’s meeting is expected to be in a closed executive session, but it will help determine the scope of business to be handled at Tuesday’s meeting.

Pro-Question 1 interests have already dumped $9 million into the race, making for a lot of money for the commission to follow. Filings at the commission released on Friday and reported on by Maine Public showed that casino backers have poured $9 million into the election, compared to just $600,000 for the opposition group funded by Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, which owns Oxford Casino. Progress for Maine, a political committee linked directly to Scott, has accounted for $4.3 million of the pro-Question 1 contributions. A different committee led by Scott’s sister prompted the ethics investigation.

Reading list

  • U.S. Sen. Angus King says it’s premature to rule out collusion between President Donald Trump and his associates and the Russian government. During an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Maine’s independent senator said he and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee agree that Trump’s recent claim of no collusion is not based on evidence. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who sits on the same committee, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it’s clear that Russians tried to influence the 2016 presidential election but that she has “not seen any definitive evidence of collusion.” On Friday, a federal grand jury approved the first charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election. The New York Times says one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate have surrendered to the FBI.
  • An embattled Republican Maine senator resigned from his leadership position on Friday. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Newport, announced Friday that he’d step down from the third-ranking position in his chamber effective Wednesday. It has been a difficult year for the popular third-term senator: His sister sued him last year alleging misuse of more than $1 million in family money and the Maine Ethics Commission fined his political committees $9,000 in August for filing several late campaign finance reports.
  • Maine first lady Ann LePage said Friday that Stephen Bannon asked her to ‘pray about’ running against King in 2018. The wife of Maine’s governor told conservative radio host Howie Carr that Bannon, the Breitbart News chief and former counselor to Trump, called her once roughly two weeks ago to lobby her to run for Senate. It confirmed a New York Times report on Bannon’s interest in Ann LePage earlier this month, but it’s still unclear how interested she is. She said she was “dumbfounded” by the call.

Important Halloween decisions

If you’re a parent of young children, no doubt you’ve already completed the annual ritual of dressing your children up to go out and take candy from strangers. Anyone who tells you that our culture is any less bizarre than any other should take a good look at Halloween.

Despite all the hype and marketing pressure, my wife and I have had a lot of fun over the years, especially when we pieced together costumes instead of just plunking down the $20 or $30 — or $40! — for a single-use costume. That’s what we did this year for our 7-year-old ninja.

We’re feeling inadequate, but he’s happy. Not everyone can be as impressive as Tom Brady, who told radio hosts this morning he’s going to be avocado and toast.

Our 12-year-old has made a somber decision. Though he’s still probably young enough, he’s taller than a lot of adults and has decided his trick-or-treating days are over. The 7-year-old hasn’t realized yet that in addition to his parents, there’s now a third mooch on his candy haul. Here’s a sweet soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.