AUGUSTA — The Maine ethics commission levied a $500 fine Wednesday against state Rep. Diana Russell after finding the Portland Democrat should have reported an email list she used for fundraising as an in-kind contribution in her unsuccessful primary campaign for a state Senate seat.

The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices agreed with Russell that she, and not her Working Families political action committee, owned the list of some 130,000 names. Commissioners also agreed with Russell that the list was worth about $1,500 when she in effect gave it to herself last fall.

Russell used the list to raise nearly $90,000 for the primary election, but she said she didn’t report the list because she didn’t think it was valuable. She said she didn’t expect she “could even raise $10,000” from the list.

The commission staff found no evidence that Russell had used her PAC to hide financial activity or circumvent contribution limits, and the commission agreed with this assessment. But commissioners said they may review the reporting requirements of PACs run by legislators aspiring to a leadership position.

Russell, who assumed office in 2008, could have been fined up to $1,000. She said she’s been “honest and transparent” with the commission, and was frustrated to find that “people can twist your words and intentions really quickly.”

Russell has previously been fined more than $4,000 for other Maine campaign finance violations. Russell was running for the Senate seat of Minority Leader Justin Alfond, who couldn’t seek re-election because of term limits. Russell also was term limited.


Russell has led what’s become a national fight against superdelegates, and said she expanded her personal list of emails from popular, online petitions on progressive issues. Most of her reported contributions this campaign cycle came from small, out-of-state donors – a fundraising practice that mirrored Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ successful approach.

Portland resident Michael Hiltz filed the complaint against Russell and claimed a list with 200,000 names would cost about $20,000 for a one-time use. He cited state records that show that Working Families paid Russell nearly $11,000 for online campaigns and organizing.

Russell’s attorney said Wednesday the PAC, whose mission is supporting Maine Democratic House candidates, has spent $1,550 supporting such candidates since 2013.

In January, Working Families sold its own substantial list of emails and other personal information to the website for about $7,400.

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