AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has proposed a bill that would require the Maine Ethics Commission to expand its responsibilities to include fact-checking statements made during political campaigns.

LD 1834, An Act to Require the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to Make Public Declarations following a Determination of a Campaign Statement’s Falsity, would require the Ethics Commission to respond to complaints made in gubernatorial, House or Senate campaigns by declaring whether the the statements are false. The bill was referred by the Senate to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee Wednesday morning.

Maine Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said Wednesday that the concept aired by LePage would constitute an entirely new role for the commission that currently isn’t allowed in law.

“The commission mostly regulates the financial aspects of political campaigns, which is money that is raised and spent by candidates, PACs and political parties,” said Wayne. “Under current law we don’t have much of a role with the content of political speech other than the paid-for disclaimer statement that discloses who paid for an advertisement or mailer.”

Wayne said the commission does offer candidates the option to sign a document called a voluntary code of fair campaign practices, but even in that case the commission doesn’t have authorization to conduct investigations of candidates violating the code.

“We don’t believe we were intended to investigate those types of issues,” said Wayne. “It would be a new set of responsibilities that we would have to carry out.”

Wayne said he didn’t know yet how much time would be spent conducting investigations under LePage’s bill.

“It’s hard to estimate the workload,” he said. “We’ll have to think about it.”

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