York County casino backers may be hit with record ethics fines today

Good morning from Augusta. We’re awaiting a Friday afternoon hearing before the Maine Ethics Commission where it may close a months-long investigation by assessing record fines on leaders of a York County casino campaign for Question 1 on Tuesday’s ballot.

The commission’s recommended penalties are unclear, but they’re shaping up to be massive. The investigation into the effort led by Northern Mariana Islands developer Shawn Scott began in June and stemmed from an April disclosure from his sister, Lisa Scott, who amended filings to say that $4.3 million originally attributed to her actually came from corporate sources tied to her brother. Now, Lisa Scott, her political committee’s treasurer and entities linked to Shawn Scott are all on the hook for fines. The commission hasn’t released a staff report detailing recommended penalties yet, but if it deems Lisa Scott’s filings late, it can assess a penalty that equals the amount reported. That is $4.3 million. Plus, she’s only one party. The biggest penalty ever assessed by the commission is $50,000.

Attorneys hinted at a legal challenges during a hearing on Tuesday where Lisa Scott traded blame with her treasurer. Augusta lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake, who was the treasurer of Lisa Scott’s campaign committee, said at a Tuesday ethics hearing that she thought Lisa Scott was funding the effort. Lisa Scott said Timberlake knew she wasn’t and that she relied on the lobbyist to report financial filings accurately. Avery Day, Timberlake’s attorney, asked commissioners to consider only a $28,000 fine against his client, which would still be a record penalty. Attorneys for casino backers also hinted at court challenges of penalties assessed by the commission, and Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, told reporters in a Thursday email that this could face a court challenge.

So, what will happen today? Commissioners have set a 12:30 p.m. meeting to deliberate about penalties in a public session. They can go into a closed executive session to get legal advice. Wayne said commissioners may make a decision today, but they could postpone it if they feel they need more information. That could drag this issue past Election Day, which probably be fine with Question 1 backers.

LePage visits Pingree’s turf

Gov. Paul LePage went to Washington, D.C., on Thursday to oppose U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s working waterfront grants bill. Pingree wants to create a grant program to expandt access to waterfronts for commercial purposes. LePage was one of a handful of witnesses who testified before the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. Among his arguments was that the federal money would come with requirements and without funding for state government to fulfill them and that there are already enough programs funding waterfront projects that could be enriched. Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, pushed back on his claim that those programs number at least 80, saying she has seen nothing close to that level of support for the projects.

Reading list

  • Nearly $12.9 million has been spent on both sides of the casino and Medicaid expansion referendum questions. Most of it has come from a small group of wealthy backers and national groups on questions 1 and 2, which would allow a casino in York County and expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Only $11.1 million has been spent so far but there are four days until Election Day on Tuesday. Here’s your soundtrack.
  • The Legislature returns Monday. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, told lawmakers that the House of Representative and Senate will convene at 4 p.m. Monday to consider possible LePage vetoes of bills that passed the Legislature on Oct. 23. There are no vetoes yet, but the governor has until the stroke of midnight Friday to act on the ranked-choice voting moratorium law or an omnibus bill to tax and regulate recreational marijuana. He already signed the four other bills enacted by the Legislature in this year’s special session.
  • Maine lobstermen say Canada is failing to protect right whales. A group of environmental organizations has threatened to sue federal agencies after what is thought to be one of the deadliest summers for North Atlantic right whales in centuries. Maine lobstermen fear such a lawsuit could result in costly restrictions on how they fish, even though 12 of the whale deaths were in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence and the other four were off Cape Cod.

Getting nasty like a lawyer

We love lawyers, in a way. Especially when they’re annoyed. Reading legal complaints and responses has become a bit of a hobby and it’s (usually) fun when they’re turning what would probably be forceful and angry rebuttals for the rest of us into carefully crafted legalese.

Case in point: LePage’s latest lawsuit against Attorney General Janet Mills, which demands internal communications to and from the AG’s office that Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner argued in letters to LePage attorney Amy Dieterich aren’t subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

Amid the back-and-forth is Gardiner writing that the LePage administration will have to pay her office for assembling the hundreds of pages of records.

Dieterich wrote LePage deserves a discount.

“With respect to cost … I would ask that the invoice be adjusted to remove any time spent redacting or withholding documents, as they should not have been redacted or withheld in the first place,” wrote Dieterich on Oct. 2. Here’s her soundtrack.

On Oct. 25, Gardiner wrote that the time is billable.

“However,” she wrote in the final sentence of the letter, “we will not charge you for the additional time that I have spent re-reviewing the withheld material in order to prepare this response to your letter.” Here’s her 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.