An Aroostook County resident has filed an ethics complaint against one of the state’s Republican legislative leaders, alleging he improperly spent political action committee money on personal items.

But Maine’s regulations for PACs are far less stringent than those imposed on candidates participating in the state’s public campaign financing system.

The complaint against House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, was filed Thursday by Fort Fairfield resident Rommy Haines. In an email to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, commonly known as the Ethics Commission, Haines alleges that Stewart used money from Star City PAC “for personal enrichment.”

Haines pointed to $1,051.92 spent on tires in July 2019, another $770.39 on tires in August 2018 and two expenditures on clothing at the retailer Target totaling $210.44. At the time, Stewart used his Star City PAC – a so-called “leadership” PAC – to help support Republican House candidates.

“As I understand it these are clear violations of the personal enrichment statute that prevents legislators for enriching themselves with funds intended for campaigns,” Haines wrote. “You can’t raise money under the guise of elections, and then turn around and buy yourself fancy tires and new clothes.”

Stewart, who is currently challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Carpenter for a northern Maine Senate seat, could not be reached for comment Friday night.

While Stewart is currently running for office as a Clean Elections candidate using Maine’s public campaign financing system, the expenditures in question were made by his Star City PAC and date back to 2018 or 2019.

Maine’s campaign finance laws have very different standards for political spending when it comes to candidates and PACS. While Clean Elections candidates are explicitly prohibited from using their taxpayer-supported campaign funds on “vehicle repair and maintenance” or clothing for political functions, there are no such explicit prohibitions in place for leadership PACs.

But staff and Ethics Commission members – two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent – will have to determine whether those expenses were consistent with rules in place for PACs at the time, particularly when it comes to reimbursement for travel expenses.

“The committee may reimburse the Legislator for expenses incurred in the proper performance of the duties of the Legislator, for purchases made on behalf of the committee and for travel expenses associated with volunteering for the committee,” reads the statute. “Allowable reimbursement for expenses does not include payments from the committee that are determined by the commission to be for the purpose of personal financial enrichment of the Legislator.”

In a campaign finance report filed with the state that year, Star City PAC describes the August 2018 purchase of tires as “vehicle maintenance/tire replacement for travel around Maine related to campaigns.”

The current statute also states that committee funds “may not be commingled with the personal funds of the Legislator or the funds of a business owned or operated by the Legislator.” But that language was added by a law passed after the Star City PAC expenditures that are the subject of the Haines complaint.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, declined to comment on the complaint Friday evening but said the commission aims to take it up before the November election, potentially during the Sept. 30 meeting.


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