Tax panel’s leader in Senate faces fine

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AUGUSTA (AP) – The state’s election watchdog panel Monday voted to financially penalize the Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee for violating provisions of the Maine Clean Election Act during his 2006 re-election campaign.

Democrat Joseph Perry of Bangor was fined $950 for three violations, including misspending public funds provided for his campaign through overdraft transfers and commingling public funds with personal funds.

A third violation found by the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices involved inadequate record-keeping. Perry told the commission he did not dispute the findings and said in acting as de facto treasurer of his own campaign he had not done a good enough job.

As outlined by the commission staff, an audit of Perry’s campaign finances showed that his credit union transferred public funds for the campaign from his savings account to his checking account to avoid overdrafts in the checking account. The staff said Perry had responded by saying he initially was unaware of the transfers and that he had repaid all funds transferred to his checking account.

“We find no evidence that Senator Perry intended to keep MCEA funds permanently,” the panel’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne, wrote in a memo to the commission.

Wayne told the commission in his memo that panel staff had found six candidates from the 2006 campaigns “who commingled MCEA funds with personal funds or misspent them.”

Some penalty is necessary, Wayne wrote, “to send the message to Maine Clean Election Act candidates that they must deposit their public funds in a separate campaign account and use them only for campaign-related purposes.”

The commission’s newly elected chairman, independent Michael Friedman of Bangor, cautioned the panel against sending too “strident” messages but added that “the penalties are on the books.”

Other panelists professed to be unconcerned about the severity of punishment.

“Certainly, Senator Perry is not new to the game,” said Jean Ginn Marvin, a former Republican legislator from Cape Elizabeth.

Added Vinton Cassidy, another former Republican legislator from Calais, “In all due respect these folks aren’t children.”

Including previous service in the state House of Representatives, Perry is in his sixth legislative term.

Wayne said Perry was selected randomly to be audited.

According to a July 3 response to the commission audit by Perry attorney Newell Augur, “There were several personal and non-legislative work-related challenges occupying Senator Perry’s attention during the final four months of the campaign. These all collectively contributed to the lack of action to reverse the automatic overdraft protection.”

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