LEWISTON — A state agency determined that the city’s former police chief falsifed signatures on forms he submitted seeking public money to fund a Maine Senate bid.

Bill Welch of Lewiston has since dropped out of the race.

Welch had announced his intention in March to run as a Republican for District 21 against incumbent Democrat Nate Libby.

Contacted Tuesday, Welch said he hadn’t realized at the time that he had run afoul of agency regulations, but he acknowledged poor judgment.

An agency spokesman said there are no plans to sanction Welch for his actions.

Welch, who now owns a local restaurant, had applied for Maine Clean Elections money to pay for his state Senate campaign. That application requires candidates to collect signatures and individual contributions of $5 or more.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices on June 20 wrote Welch a letter advising him that he had failed to qualify for public funding because he had “falsified at least 10 signatures of contributors” on agency forms Welch submitted to the commission. The agency also determined that 42 of his qualifying contributions were invalid, leaving him short of the required 175 qualifying contributions.

During her review of Welch’s application, a candidate registrar detected discrepancies between signatures of several contributors on the agency forms and the signatures of those same contributors on the checks and money orders they used to make the qualifying contributions, according to the agency’s letter.

After reviewing voter registration cards filled out by the contributors, the agency’s staff identified 19 instances “in which it appeared that someone other than the contributor” had signed the contributor’s name on the forms. Also, according to the letter, someone other than the contributor signed that contributor’s name on the money order.

An investigator with the Maine Attorney General’s Office spoke with contributors in May after Welch had hand-delivered the required forms for Clean Election candidates to the agency April 19. Three contributors whose contributions were included in Welch’s submitted forms told the investigator that they had never seen the agency forms and denied the handwriting and signatures belonged to them.

“You signed these particular forms as the circulator,” the letter to Welch said.

Welch later contacted the investigator and told him that he had signed the names of up to a dozen of the contributors whose names appeared on the agency’s forms, according to the letter.

On the forms submitted to the agency, Welch signed a statement as circulator that “to the best of my knowledge and belief, the signature (of the contributor) is the signature of the person whose name it purports to be.”

In the letter, the agency staff wrote: “With respect to the contributors whose names you signed, these statements by you were false.”

Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said Tuesday his agency had closed its investigation into the matter without pursuing any sanctions against Welch.

“As for the commission, it has no plans to take any punitive action against Mr. Welch,” Wayne wrote in an email to the media.

Welch told the Sun Journal on Tuesday that he exercised poor judgment at the time, but he hadn’t thought he was violating any regulations.

“I certainly would not do anything that I thought was going to be defrauding anybody or in any way forging signatures in order to be able to get Clean Election money,” Welch said. “That just is not the case.”

All of the money he collected from contributors to his campaign came from friends and family, he said.

“It was a case of trying not to inconvenience people who had donated and not come back,” he said, adding that he had secured their permission or had an understanding that he could sign for them.

Welch said none of these issues would likely have arisen had he pursued his Clean Elections candidacy online, where the same level of scrutiny is not required.

“I think it’s something that ought to be changed,” he said.

Wayne said he didn’t perceive any unfairness in offering candidates the two options and said the online contributions through the use of credit cards are equally scrutinized.

Welch said he had no gripe with the commission and commended the staff in doing a “great job” of examining his case.

In a statement on his Facebook page last month, Welch announced his decision to withdraw because of family and health issues.

“As a lot of you know, my father is not doing well and is receiving hospice care at my home,” Welch wrote. “I also have other family medical issues that just don’t allow me to campaign or to represent the people of Lewiston the way they deserve.”

Welch Staff Determination by SunJournal on Scribd

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