The political action committee behind a successful referendum initiative to ensure independent auto repair shops have access to vehicle diagnostic data faces up to $240,000 in fines for missing notification and reporting deadlines after receiving large donations.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics is only recommending $50,000 in fines, however, based in part on how past cases were resolved. The commission is scheduled to take up the fines at a meeting Wednesday.

Even at the reduced amount, the fines would likely be among the largest issued by the commission. The record was $500,000 in fines imposed in 2017 against the four ballot question committees behind a failed referendum to allow a casino in York County. Those committees failed to meet deadlines to report the identity of contributors.

Prior to 2017, the largest fine the commission imposed was the $50,250 penalty it imposed in 2014 against the National Organization for Marriage for not registering and filing campaign finance reports as a ballot question committee in the 2009 elections.

Details of the right-to-repair violations and proposed fines were outlined in a staff memo to the commission and posted on its website. State offices were closed Friday and commission staff could not be reached to provide further information.

Tommy Hickey, director of the Maine Automotive Right to Repair Coalition, said in an email Friday that the group did not intend to conceal information.


“It was just a clerical error that we came forward with the ethics commission about,” he said. “We look forward to working closely with the commission and getting this resolved.”

State law requires ballot question committees such as the Right to Repair Coalition to send notices to donors who contribute more than $100,000. The committees also must send copies of the notices to the commission.

The Maine Automotive Right to Repair Committee is facing penalties related to contributions of more than $100,000 from six donors. The committee was late in notifying five of the six donors of their major contributor status and was late in notifying the commission of all six, according to a memo to commissioners from Emma Burke, political committee and lobbyist registrar for the commission.

Notices must be sent within five days, but were delayed weeks or months in some cases, the memo said.

The ballot question committee raised close to $5 million in its campaign to pass the referendum, which voters overwhelmingly approved.

The commission can assess fines equal to 10% of the total contributions required to be reported, with a cap of $50,000 for each donation that violates the requirements to notify the donor, the commission, or both.



Representatives of the committee said that there were misunderstandings around the process and asked that the fees to be reduced to a total of $15,000.

“Although it acknowledges it has made inadvertent errors, Maine Automotive Right to Repair has made good faith, bona fide efforts to comply with the major contributor requirements,” Adrianne Fouts, an attorney for the committee, wrote in a letter to the commission.

Fouts said the committee’s treasurer misunderstood the requirements based on communications with Burke and that written guidance provided by the commission is unclear.

Burke wrote in the memo that commission staff disagreed with the claim about a lack of specificity in its written publications, and that while there were some gaps in communications, they were not “significant enough to warrant a complete misunderstanding of the requirement.”

However, Burke said it is relatively rare for the commission to get requests for fine waivers for late major contributor reports or notices, and that the last time the issue came up, in 2021, the fines were reduced to between $2,000 and $2,500. However, the requirements had only been in place for two years at the time, and ballot question committees should now be more aware of what the requirements are, Burke said.

Some major donors to Maine Automotive Right to Repair also are facing individual fines for filing late reports on their contributions. Genuine Parts Company is facing a fine of $50,000 that it has asked the commission to waive, while Dorman Products faces a fine of $15,000 that it also has asked be waived.

Burke wrote in separate memos on those cases that the late notices from Maine Automotive Right to Repair were an issue for both companies, but there were also other factors to be considered. The commission is recommending $5,000 fines for each.

In addition, the commission will discuss Wednesday whether to assess a $25,768 fine for a late notice to a major contributor by Maine Energy Progress, a PAC formed to oppose the takeover of Maine’s major utilities by a public power company. Commission staff have suggested a fine of $3,000, and Maine Energy Progress has asked for a full waiver.

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