AUGUSTA - The staff of the Maine ethics commission defended one of its commissioners Wednesday against a call for her resignation.
On Monday, as part of a complaint against the Maine Heritage Policy Center, Carl Lindemann wrote a letter to the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices questioning whether one of its members should be asked to resign.
Jean Ginn Marvin, who is a member of the commission, serves on the board of directors for the Maine Heritage Policy Center and is the organization's treasurer. Lindemann complained that she should not be allowed to function both as a commissioner and on the MHPC board, which the commission regulates.
"In the view of the commission staff, Ms. Ginn Marvin's membership on the MHPC board is not a conflict of interest that would require her to step down from the commission. She was a member of the MHPC board when the governor appointed her at the suggestion of legislative leadership, so apparently the issue was not viewed as a disqualifying conflict at the time of her appointment," wrote Jonathan Wayne, the commission's executive director, in a letter to Lindemann on Wednesday.
In October, Lindemann asked the commission to investigate whether the center had violated state election law with its activities concerning the Taxpayer Bill of Rights referendum and whether it should be required to file financial disclosure reports.
In response to Lindemann's request, the ethics commission asked the center for information and received a written response on Oct. 26 from its lawyer, Dan Billings. Billings defended the Maine Heritage Policy Center's role in support of TABOR and argued that it was not required to disclose its financial activities. Billings and MHPC president and executive director Bill Becker then testified in person on Oct. 31.
That day, Ginn Marvin recused herself from the proceedings and left the meeting. She also stepped down as chairwoman of the ethics commission.
At the time, the commission decided not to require MHPC to file a financial disclosure before the election, taking its two representatives at their testimony that the center had not solicited or received contributions for the purpose of promoting TABOR.
On Monday, Lindemann submitted new documents, including a copy of a check made out to MHPC on Nov. 1 - the day after the hearing - and a thank-you letter from Becker, that appear to contradict that testimony.
Billings, who defended the center before the ethics commission, said Monday that if he had seen the thank-you letter before it was sent he might have suggested different wording, but that the contribution was within the law and, to the best of his knowledge, the center had not received contributions to support TABOR before his Oct. 26 letter.
"First, this all happened since that letter was written and since the last commission meeting," Billings said. "I think it's more than coincidental the timing of this contribution and who ended up with these documents."
Billings added that it shouldn't be a surprise that some people might contribute to the center based upon its work on TABOR.
"I think the commission will see this for what it is," Billings said. "I think they're trying to silence MHPC heading into the legislative session."
In response to Lindemann's filling on Monday, the commission contacted Billings on Tuesday, requesting information.
"While Mr. Lindemann's documents do not directly contradict the statements in your Oct. 26 letter and Mr. Becker's Oct. 31 testimony, they do - without further explanation -- seem at odds," Wayne wrote.
The letter asks Billings to respond by Dec. 4. The commission will take the matter up on Dec. 12.