By Naomi Schalit and John Christie
AUGUSTA -- Maine’s "F" grade from the State Integrity Investigation has led to a number of reforms in the state's ethics rules this year, including a bipartisan transparency bill proposed by Gov. Paul LePage that he signed into law last week.
The reforms also include two bills signed by the governor to stop the so-called “revolving door” at the statehouse, where lawmakers and executive branch officials leave government service and go directly to work as lobbyists.
AUGUSTA — The state’s Republican governor and a leading Democratic legislator have teamed up to try to improve the ethical standards for both elected and appointed state officials.
A bill unveiled this week by Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Emily Cain of Orono will require greater disclosure of the financial and political interests of legislators and high-ranking executive branch officials.
Lawmakers in Maine have begun debating a series of ethics reform bills that would close the revolving door between government and lobbying and strengthen financial disclosure requirements for legislators and some executive branch officials. In a hearing today, advocates for reform faced of with a representative of Gov. Paul LePage, who opposes the new revolving door proposals for the executive branch.
As reported by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, the hearing focused on just one of many reform bills proposed this session. Maine received an F grade from the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven analysis of state government transparency and ethics. Sponsors of several of the separate bills have cited the state's poor showing as a reason for proposing new reforms.
See the full story at Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting website.
By Naomi Schalit and John Christie
©Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
Legislation to make it unlawful for state officials to leave their jobs and immediately go to work for industries they regulated – the so-called “revolving door” – is one of several ethics bills expected to be debated in the legislature this session.
Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, has sponsored legislation requiring executive employees “in a major policy-influencing position” to wait one year before accepting a job with “a business activity that is regulated by the state or quasi-state agency by which the former executive employee was employed.”
PACs and Super PACs have been the focus of presidential election coverage this year, but the issue is alive in the states too. In Maine, the ethics commission is now looking into whether a state senator improperly coordinated with one Republican PAC.
The state Democratic Party filed a complaint last week after the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC spent nearly $73,000 on television ads supporting Nichi Farnham, who is running for re-election to represent Bangor and a neighboring town. The only problem is that it turns out that Farnham is listed as the primary fundraiser and authorizing agent for the PAC, and PAC’s aren’t allowed to coordinate with the candidates or their campaigns.
By Naomi Schalit and John Christie, ©Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
The state has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations run by legislative leaders or the spouses of high-level state officials since 2003. But because of a loophole in ethics law, the public didn’t know about it.
That won’t happen again.
A bill to require disclosure of state contracts with legislators and executive branch officials has sailed to approval through the House and the Senate. The bill, L.D. 1806, now awaits the signature of Gov. Paul LePage, who said Thursday he will sign it.
““It is reasonable to ask our elected leaders to disclose who is paying them. It is good for the health of our democracy and the people of Maine,” said LePage.
Conservative Gov. Paul LePage and his liberal counterparts in the Maine state legislature disagree on many issues, but the two sides have found common ground: An 'F' on Maine's report card is unacceptable.
LePage, an outspoken Republican in his first term, is encouraging a piece of legislation that would expose state officials' conflicts of interest and decrease the chances for legislators to line their own pockets with taxpayer money. Gov. LePage said this is the kind of reform that Maine needs to enact to improve the failing grade Maine recieved on its Corruption Risk Report Card.
On the legislative side, House Minority Leader Emily Cain, (D-Orono), said the report card raises substantive issues, and might inspire a bipartisan task force to review the findings and suggest changes going into the next legislative session.
State Integrity news for Maine from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network:
A national study released today finds Maine to be more at risk of corruption than most other states. The State Integrity Investigation was carried out by three nonpartisan journalism and reporting groups to assess government accountability and transparency across the 50 states. Maine was awarded an "F," and placed 46th in the nation.
Tom Porter spoke to two Maine journalists who carried out the research for Maine.
Hear more from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
Legislators were urged Wednesday to approve a bill submitted by Gov. Paul LePage (pictured, right) to close an ethics law loophole that has allowed high-level state officials not to report millions in state payments to organizations run by themselves or their spouses.The governor proposed the bill, L.D. 1806, shortly after publication of a Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting story that revealed that between 2003 and 2010 the state paid almost $235 million to such organizations.
“This legislation will help ensure that the citizens of Maine have a transparent and ethical government and I urge this committee to grant it a unanimous ‘ought to pass,’” said Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor.
Read the rest of the story at the Bangor Daily News.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office is poised to bring criminal charges against former Maine House Rep. David Burns, R-Alfred, in the wake of findings by the state ethics commission that he violated Maine campaign finance laws.
This past November, Burns (pictured, right) was found guilty by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices of violating eight Maine election finance laws, including falsifying records, misusing Clean Elections Act funds, making false statements, illegally mingling MCEA funds with personal funds, using funds not related to his campaign, mis-reporting expenditures, using campaign funds for personal use and using MCEA funds to pay for goods received prior to his certification as a MCEA candidate.
Read the rest of the story at the Journal Tribune.