The Maine Ethics Commission has voted to impose a $500 fine against a political action committee once run by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.
Gideon, who hopes to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins next year, has said the PAC contributions made in her name were an error that occurred based on bad advice she received at the time.
Former state Sen. Ed Youngblood, an advocate for Maine’s Clean Elections Law, had filed the ethics complaints in August, claiming that Gideon’s use of a partially corporate-funded committee to repay herself for political contributions broke campaign finance laws barring political donations in someone else’s name.
The commissioners present Wednesday, Republicans Richard Nass and William Pattershall, and Democrat William Lee, heard from both Youngblood and Benjamin Grant, an attorney for Gideon and a former chairman of the Maine Democratic Party. After an hour, they voted to reject further investigation of Gideon.
They did decide in their 3-0 vote that her PAC had violated state law on campaign finance, and then set the $500 fine.
Maine GOP Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas released a statement on the Ethics Commission’s unanimous vote.
"It should come as no surprise that Speaker Sara Gideon was unanimously found guilty by the Maine Ethics Commission today for being a straw-donor for her corporate-funded PAC. Her clear and blatant violation of the law was clear and we are glad to see she is being held accountable."
Youngblood said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald that he did not believe the violations by Gideon or her PAC amounted to her being a straw donor.
"During her time in office, Sara Gideon has shown a pattern of misleading Mainers and shady behavior,” Kouzounas added. “Right now, Sara Gideon is running ads denouncing corporate money in politics while she reaps the benefits of her own corporate-funded PAC. From illegally using her corporate PAC to buy political favors in Maine, to funneling money into her own pocket, her record of campaign finance reform certainly doesn’t match her rhetoric."
Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said in a memo last week that they should not pursue an investigation.
“The facts and evidence presented in this matter do not support a conclusion that the Gideon Leadership PAC engaged in the deceptive conduct that the Legislature sought to prohibit,” Wayne said. “In its campaign finance reports, the PAC disclosed that it, not Sara Gideon, was the source of the contributions. For this reason, we recommend against conducting a campaign finance investigation into this allegation.”
The complaint filed by Youngblood with the Federal Election Commission has not been decided.
“While we are happy the Maine Ethics Commission held Sara Gideon accountable for her violations in the state, we look forward to Sara Gideon having to explain her other campaign finance violations to the Federal Election Commission in the near future," Kouzounas said.