AUGUSTA — The Government Oversight Committee on Friday directed the Legislature's watchdog agency to scrutinize some expenditures at the Maine State Housing Authority, also known as MaineHousing.
The panel voted unanimously to have the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability quickly review a list of vendors that MaineHousing has paid over the past five years.
The quasi-governmental agency has been on the defensive about those expenditures following a release of information obtained by the Maine Heritage Policy Center. The data show MaineHousing paid for conferences at high-end hotels and for staff trips, and donated to organizations that advocate for the poor and elderly.
MaineHousing has explained some of the expenditures. However, lawmakers want the Legislature's investigative agency to perform a deeper analysis.
OPEGA was already slated to perform a broader review of MaineHousing, but that probe wasn't expected to take place until later this year.
The Government Oversight Committee on Friday directed OPEGA to perform a "rapid response" review of MaineHousing's expenditures on sponsorships, travel and meals, memberships and contributions to outside groups.
The information released by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, came from a Freedom of Access Act request for 13 years of MaineHousing expenditures. The agency turned over 534 pages of documents showing a list of vendors.
How much the agency paid the vendors is still unclear. MaineHousing officials claim they have to go through approximately 800,000 pages of the payment statements to redact confidential information before they can turn over additional information.
The legislative committee's decision came amid a political donnybrook between MaineHousing Executive Director Dale McCormick, a Democrat, and state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and the policy center.
The fight took a bizarre turn this week when MaineHousing issued a press release accusing policy center employees of insulting staff while attempting to gain access to the agency's board room prior to a meeting. The MHPC claimed that McCormick had adopted new security protocols to deny the group access.
Democrats have called the attacks on McCormick a political witch hunt designed to force her out of her post. Two Democratic lawmakers recently withdrew their support of a bill that would achieve that objective.
The proposal, LD 1778, is scheduled for a Jan. 31 public hearing.
This story has been changed to reflect the number of documents MaineHousing has turned over to the Maine Heritage Policy Center.