LEWISTON – The state’s ethics commission staff is recommending that the Maine Democratic Party be fined $5,000 for failing to substantially comply with campaign finance disclosure laws.

In June, the party contracted with a Connecticut-based vendor to send two pieces of direct mail into the state.

The mailings were sent to voters represented by state Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-South Portland, and Rep. Walter Ash, D-Belfast, and were mailed on July 20 and July 14, respectively.

The expense related to the mailings was not reported as required by law on the Democratic Party’s campaign finance disclosure forms, which were due to the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices on July 25.

In a letter to the Democratic Party dated Aug. 11, the ethics commission staff said it was recommending the maximum fine allowed by law because the omissions in the original July 25 report accounted for more than 25 percent of the expenditures for the filing period and was not corrected for 22 days.

“For this reason the staff is considering the report late,” Martha Demeritt, party registrar for the commission, wrote in the letter, “and will be recommending the assessment of a civil penalty as if the report were filed 22 days late.”

The ethics inquiry into the mailings was prompted by complaint filed by Roy Lenardson, a political consultant who works with Republicans and the campaign manager for TaxpayerBillofRights.com.

Lenardson requested information about the mailer from the ethics commission on July 26.

In an e-mail to the commission’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne, Lenardson said he could find nothing in the Maine Democratic Party’s disclosure forms that would account for the mailing.

Wayne made a formal inquiry to the state Democratic Party on Aug. 3. Michael Mahoney, an attorney with Preti Flaherty Beliveau Pachios and Haley of Portland representing the party, responded to the questions on Aug. 10.

“At the outset, the Party would like to state that its 42-day post-primary report erroneously omitted the two mail pieces that are the subject of your Aug. 3rd inquiry,” Mahoney wrote.

Mahoney attributed the omissions to a “communications lapse” within the party, and wrote that the campaign disclosure reports were corrected within three business days of learning of the error from the ethics commission.

Mahoney also wrote that the omission “was in no way intended to hide (the party’s) association with these mail pieces.”

“The bottom line is that prior to the last campaign finance report, the party was under obligation for $30,000 worth of literature from a vendor in Connecticut,” Wayne said. “It was required to report that it owed an obligation and should have included it in the July 25th campaign finance report.”

“It’s significant enough that we consider the whole report late,” Wayne said.

State law includes a formula for determining the maximum amount of civil penalties possible for a late report, Wayne said. The fines are capped at $5,000.

Ultimately, Wayne said, the amount of the fine will be decided by the members of the ethics commission when they meet on Aug. 23.

“We know we made a mistake,” said Ben Dudley, the chairman of the state Democratic Party. “Our intent is to continue to strive to comply with both the spirit and the letter of the law.”

The mailings could also be involved in a second ethics complaint, this one filed by John Frary, the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Committee.

The complaint was mailed to the ethics commission on Tuesday, Frary said. A copy of the complaint was provided by Frary to the Sun Journal on the same day.

In his letter, Frary questions whether a mailing touting a community forum by the state Democratic Party for Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, represents an independent expenditure on her behalf. If it does, Mills’ Republican opponent, Lance Harvell, could qualify for matching money because he qualified for public financing of his campaign.

The mailer does not specifically advocate for the election or defeat of a particular candidate, which the law requires for a mailing to be considered an independent expenditure.

The ethics commission could not comment on the complaint because it had not arrived.

In all, the state Democratic Party paid for mail pieces in three state Senate districts and 13 House districts, including Mills’, the party said. The total cost of the mailings was $22,539.48.

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