Imagine our surprise.

A few weeks after lauding Rep. William Walcott, the former Democratic representative from downtown Lewiston, as an “honest man,” allegations emerged he diverted some $4,800 in clean election – read taxpayer – funds for his personal misuse.

Then, in an attempt to cover his tracks, Walcott admittedly fabricated expenditures to account for the missing funds. Without an audit, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices found, there was little chance the state would have recovered the misspent money.

News of Walcott’s transgressions, and hasty cover-up, shocked those who had supported the veteran lawmaker, who had stepped down from his seat for reportedly job-related reasons. His peers lauded his dedication to the Legislature, while also working full time assisting developmentally disabled adults.

The amount of allegedly misappropriated funds isn’t the issue here. Neither are the fabrications; Walcott is neither the first, nor last, politician to create fantastic explanations to excuse everyday greed or corruption. His rationale, however – a “modest financial” situation – is a poor excuse.

Walcott’s apparently cavalier disregard to the intentions of clean elections is the real punch to the stomach. According to ethics commission records, he considered his re-election “safe,” and therefore failed to spend the clean elections funds on his campaign.

If Walcott felt his re-election was in the bag, as it were, the responsible action would have been to return the funds. Instead, he succumbed to temptation, and spent them, in direct violation of the sacred principle of clean elections.

Walcott has repaid the money. But his reputation is ruined. The clarion moment of his legislative service – his impassioned speech during debate over anti-discrimination legislation, in which he disclosed his homosexuality – had separated him from the average politician.

These violations, though, have caused Walcott to come crashing back to earth.

Clean elections remains a viable program, deserving of support. Other states have turned to Maine’s trailblazing model for simple reasons – our system has helped good candidates come forward and seek legislative and gubernatorial office, when finances would have otherwise prevented them.

Like any system, however, there will be bugs. Independent gubernatorial candidate Barbara Merrill’s employment of her husband, for example. The debate on how to sell campaign assets after an election. These problems can be resolved with policy and precedent.

Pure diversion of funds, however, cannot. What Walcott allegedly did was unpreventable; regardless of how stringent the law becomes, it cannot make candidates act responsibly.

That’s their duty alone, and the inherent trust built into clean elections.

Walcott broke that trust and the trust of his constituents. That his resignation came around the same time these revelations were made to the ethics commission casts a cloud over his departure.

An honest man likely went into the Legislature. Something else, it appears, came out.


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