AUGUSTA – Independent gubernatorial candidate John Michael won a victory of sorts Tuesday in his quest for public financing for his campaign.

Michael requested that his appeal of a ruling denying him certification as a Maine Clean Election candidate be delayed until a fifth member of the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices can be appointed.

The three commission members present voted 2-1 in Michael’s favor.

Michael, who lives in Auburn, was denied public financing for his campaign in June after multiple mistakes, missed deadlines and possible fraud were uncovered by the ethics commission’s staff. Michael appealed that decision to the appointed members of the commission.

At stake is as much as $1.2 million in public funding for his campaign.

On Tuesday, Michael asked for the proceedings to be postponed because one seat on the commission has been vacant since April 2005.

The procedural victory shines the spotlight on the failure of state lawmakers to nominate and Gov. John Baldacci to appoint a fifth member to the committee, but it doesn’t get Michael any closer to public financing for his campaign.

“I think today I probably had nothing to lose,” Michael said. “I’m happy we have the chance to challenge the Legislature.”

Michael’s argument was based on the idea that he could not get a fair hearing of his appeal from a commission made up of two Democrats and two Republicans.

Because he’s a conservative independent, Michael said, the four members of the commission couldn’t hear his case without bias and that the fifth member could make the process fairer.

Democratic member Andrew Ketterer agreed, saying that the appearance of a “ramrod” or “kangaroo court” would hurt the commission’s legitimacy.

“The issues are fundamental fairness and the public perception,” Ketterer said. “The request is a reasonable one.”

The process for appointing the last spot of the commission is cumbersome. Democratic and Republican leaders and the Legislature’s lone Green Independent lawmaker must agree on a list of three names for the post. Those names are then sent to the governor, who makes his selection. The nomination is then referred to the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee for review and onto the full Senate for confirmation.

Because the list of three nominees requires the consent of the party leaders in both the House and Senate, it has been difficult to reach a consensus.

According to House Speaker John Richardson’s office, Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate had agreed upon three names, but the matter rests with Green Independent John Eder, who might also have a name that he would like considered.

For Michael, the delay places his financial fate in the hands of some of the same politicians he has been attacking, including Baldacci, who is seeking re-election, but might represent his best chance to prevail.

“I’m skeptical that this commission would have voted for me to get funding,” Michael said. “I don’t think it will have any affect (on my campaign) if we come back in a month or so.”

With the delay, Michael’s campaign is left in funding limbo. He doesn’t have public financing but he can’t raise private dollars because he still hopes to get it.

“If you give me 200,000 bucks two weeks before the election, I’ll win,” Michael said. “If I end up having to try to fund it, so be it.”

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