Panel: Merrills won’t face ethics censure

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AUGUSTA (AP) – Members of the state ethics commission took turns Monday saying husband Philip Merrill’s paid role in Barbara Merrill’s publicly funded gubernatorial campaign last year might raise questions for some but was not subject to commission censure.

Questions came forth as well about Philip Merrill’s role as both a disbursing agent – deputy treasurer – of the campaign and as its largest vendor – the operator of a business to produce and place the campaign’s advertising.

But despite the complaint of one panelist that the consolidated positions of deputy treasurer and media services provider represented an undesirable business practice, other commission members said it appeared Barbara Merrill got what she paid for after hiring her husband.

“Sure, he was paid for his time, but he offered something in return” and the services rendered to the campaign seemingly “provided fair value,” said commission Chairman Michael Friedman.

The commission, voting 5-0, did cite the campaign for three book-keeping violations and levied fines totaling $1,500.

Philip Merrill conceded some points on record-keeping failings, while maintaining that chasing after detailed documentation for some expenditures after the election was over proved to be difficult.

“There’s nothing deader than a losing campaign,” Merrill told the commission.

Last November, Democratic incumbent John Baldacci won a second gubernatorial term besting Republican Chandler Woodcock, Barbara Merrill, who is a lawyer and served a term as a state representative from Appleton, and Green Independent Pat LaMarche.

Baldacci took 38.1 percent of the vote, Woodcock 30.2 percent, Merrill 21.6 percent and LaMarche 9.6 percent.

according to the Maine secretary of state’s office.

Merrill received $915,732 for her campaign as a qualified candidate under the Maine Clean Election Act, $400,000 as an initial payment for the election and $515,732 in matching funds, according to the audit.

Of that amount, Merrill’s husband – a veteran political campaign organizer – was “apparently” paid more than $109,000.

Philip Merrill told the commission Monday that concerns about job consolidations within a political campaign had to be kept in perspective.

During the Merrill run for the governorship, he said, “there was as much separation as you could have in that small a group.”

Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said the panel is expected to return to the overall issue of conflict of interest at its next meeting on Aug. 13, when members may discuss whether to seek statutory changes or changes in their own rules to limit family hiring or require specific division of labor in publicly funded election campaigns.

Under Maine’s Clean Election system, approved by voters in 1996, qualified candidates must agree to forgo most private funds and to limit spending. Nonparticipating candidates may raise and spend money without limitation. If a participating candidate is outspent by a candidate raising private funds, matching money becomes available.

AP-ES-07-16-07 1641EDT

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