AUGUSTA – The state Ethics Commission voted Wednesday to fine a Lewiston man nearly $9,000 for filing late campaign finance reports and for not returning taxpayers’ money for months.

The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices issued two fines to Christopher McCarthy, who ran for the Legislature last year. One fine, for $3,967, was assessed for not filing two campaign finance reports on time, and another, for $5,000, was levied for failure to return $845 in taxpayer money for six months.

McCarthy filed as a Clean Election candidate on June 1, 2004, running against Rep. Lillian O’Brien, D-Lewiston. Because McCarthy was a contested candidate, the state gave him a $4,031 check on June 7 under the Clean Election law. Under the law, Clean Election candidates can receive state funds for campaigning if they accept no campaign contributions.

When McCarthy filed his campaign report late in January, it showed he did not spend all of the money on his campaign. The law says unspent money is to be returned. Despite months of letters, e-mails and phone calls to McCarthy from the state, the money was not returned until May 10, according to the Ethics Commission – one day before the commission was to vote on whether to refer the case to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.

Both fines are higher than most penalties assessed candidates, said commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne.

Ethics Commission Chairman Jim Donnelly of Brewer said Wednesday that the fine amounts are set in statute, and commission members could have imposed a $10,000 assessment for not returning the money. He said that because McCarthy returned the money Tuesday, the fine was cut in half.

McCarthy appeared in person before the commission Wednesday, Donnelly said, but his reasons for the late filings and not returning the money sooner weren’t impressive.

“McCarthy had nearly $900 of taxpayers’ funds since the November election that were due back,” Donnelly said. “After six months of sending him letters, e-mails and telephone calls trying to get him to return the money, and as it was (about) to be referred to the AG for prosecution, McCarthy then responded and returned the funds.”

McCarthy told commissioners that from the November election until Tuesday, the $845 was in a drawer in his apartment, Donnelly said. After further questioning further, “The commission found his answers unsatisfactory,” Donnelly said.

McCarthy told the panel he had some personal problems, but that seemed irrelevant to why he did not take care of his responsibilities, Donnelly said.

“The commission has a responsibility to safeguard taxpayer funds,” he said. “Most candidates understand the seriousness of Clean Election money, “that it’s not their money, and it needs to come back,” Donnelly said.

Attempts to reach McCarthy for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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