Casino group violated ethics rules, panel says

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AUGUSTA — The state ethics commission ruled Thursday that the group backing a casino effort in Oxford County should have reported in January a $50,000 payment to a consulting company.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices also said Black Bear Entertainment spokesman Peter Martin violated ethics rules by not registering with the state as a lobbyist in March, for time spent in the Legislature lobbying for casino legislation.

People who spend more than eight hours in a calendar month speaking to lawmakers or legislative staff, or working on drafting legislation or testimony, are required to register as lobbyists with the state.

“I’m disappointed,” Martin said after the ruling. “I was surprised, given that there was no substantial proof that there were any hours of lobbying before March 17.”

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The complaints were brought forward by Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNO!, an anti-gambling group that opposes the Oxford County casino proposal, which will be voted on in a referendum this fall.

Martin faces a $100 fine for not registering sooner as a lobbyist. He registered on April 7, the day Bailey filed his complaint.

“There’s no reason not to register, but I don’t believe that I had passed the threshold,” Martin said. “I did register and I feel I was within the law.”

The Black Bear Entertainment political action committee could face a preliminary fine of about $4,800 for failing to disclose the payment to Martin sooner. The fine is based on 1 percent of PAC expenditures for the reporting period.

“Somehow, this $50,000 payment, it slipped through the cracks; we apologize for that,” said Dan Walker, the lawyer representing the casino PAC.

Walter McKee, chairman of the five-member ethics commission, said disclosure is an important part of the political process.

“You’re up there doing whatever it is you’re doing up there in the Legislature, lobbying and otherwise, and that information about where the money is coming from is really not out there and available so that people can figure out where you’re coming from,” McKee told Martin. “That’s kind of the whole idea about why we have disclosure in the first place.”

Another commissioner, Francis Marsano, said he didn’t believe Martin’s testimony that he hadn’t exceeded the eight-hour threshold.

“I did not find his testimony credible,” Marsano said. “I didn’t find the letter (he sent the commission staff) credible and I didn’t find his testimony here credible.”

Bailey, of CasinosNO!, who was also at the hearing, said it was hard to believe a $50,000 payment was overlooked.

“If Mr. Martin is overlooking those kinds of things, what else has he been overlooking?” Bailey said. “I just feel like there is an element of sloppiness here or deliberate attempts to not disclose information on a timely basis. It’s troublesome for someone who wants to run a casino.”

Martin said he wasn’t sure whether he would appeal the panel’s decision. Walker, who represents the PAC, said he’d likely seek a waiver to lower the penalty. The commission is scheduled to take up the penalty portion during its next meeting on May 27.

rmetzler@sunjournal.com

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