The national organization running ads attacking Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage has yet to register as a political action committee, prompting scrutiny by the agency overseeing state election laws.
The Washington, D.C.-based Democratic Governors Association has been running television ads blasting LePage's stance on energy and the environment, in addition to an Internet campaign spreading video of the GOP candidate's recent dust-up with the State House news corps.
Despite those ads, the organization hasn't registered as a PAC with the state, nor has it submitted individual expenditure reports.
State regulations require PACs to report expenditures of more than $250 within 48 hours. However, organizations such as the National Organization for Marriage have previously challenged the regulations.
Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, said Thursday that he'd contacted the lawyer for DGA to discuss the issue.
Wayne declined to elaborate without first consulting with ethics commission lawyers.
"I'd presumed the DGA was registered," he said. "They're clearly running ads."
Emily Bittner, a spokeswoman for the DGA, responded to questions about the issue with a single e-mail comment.
"The DGA operates in full compliance with Maine's elections laws," Bittner wrote.
Wayne said it wasn't clear whether the organization was violating state election law because the ads avoid advocating for a specific candidate.
"That could be why they haven't registered," Wayne said.
The DGA is a well-known national organization that works on behalf of Democratic candidates for governor. Earlier this month, the organization announced it would divert funds into Maine's gubernatorial race, one of at least seven states where Democrats face tough challenges by GOP candidates.
Since then, the organization has run a TV spot blasting LePage's stance on energy and the environment. The spots describe the GOP hopeful as pro-offshore drilling and pro-nuclear.
The DGA's salvos haven't been limited to television. It has made regular use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to show footage of LePage's heated confrontation with the State House news corps.
A Twitter user with the handle EnragedLePage has been relentlessly tweeting the video. According to its user profile, EnragedLePage is operated by the DGA.
The group has also purchased Google ads that appear in the sidebar or below political stories on various news sites. The ads say things like, "LePage's secret residence," a reference to the candidate's wife's troubles with the homestead tax exemption, or "Watch LePage lose it" at the news conference.
The ads direct readers to the Enraged LePage Facebook page, which is operated by the DGA.
On Wednesday, the website Politico.com published comments by DGA Executive Director Nathan Daschle saying LePage "doesn't have the temperament to be governor."
Lance Dutson, communications director with the Maine GOP, would not comment on the legality of the issue but said the DGA's failure to register as a PAC or to disclose its expenditures was hypocritical.
The Republican Governors Association has launched its own campaign. It has registered as a PAC and filed four 24-hour disclosures totaling more than $161,000 for LePage.
"We do it because it's important to have transparency with this type of stuff," Dutson said. "Mainers don't care for this kind of thing. The Democrats have always paid lip service to transparency but don't follow through in their actions."
The issue also raises questions about the state's campaign disclosure laws. Last year, the ethics commission attempted to investigate the National Organization for Marriage, which refused to disclose individual donations for the $1.9 million it spent overturning Maine's gay marriage law.
The group sued the state in an attempt to halt the ethics probe, arguing that Maine's regulations violated its First Amendment rights.
In August, a federal judge in Portland upheld most of the state's disclosure laws but declared some "unconstitutionally burdensome."
Afterward, the ethics commission changed the expenditure-reporting time frame from 24 hours to 48 hours. The commission is also reviewing other disclosure regulations.