ELLSWORTH — The Maine Ethics Committee on Friday fined the York casino campaign — Question 1 on Tuesday’s election ballot — $500,000 for failing to disclose the true sources of millions of dollars in campaign contributions.
Ethics Committee investigators issued a series of findings and concluding by advising the committee: “Your penalty decision in this matter should be adequate to deter future similar behavior in Maine. More and more money is available nationally to influence state laws through initiatives and referenda. Some advocates have a natural tendency toward protecting their donors from scrutiny. However, Maine has a legitimate governmental interest in preventing the use of shell donors to disguise the true source of money used to influence Maine elections.”
State Rep. Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth) wrote on Sunday that he was “pleased with the ruling by the Ethics Commission. I think the fine is deserved. Understanding the financing behind Question 1 is essential for Maine voters, and is why we requested this investigation. We now know millions of dollars flowed from Saipan, through a Nevada LLC, into Maine, and over one million contributed from a Japanese corporation. This is a troubling example of out-of-state — and out-of-country — money taking over our citizen initiative process.”
The Ethics Commission’s action cited the failure of Lisa Scott, sister of aspiring casino operator Shawn Scott, to disclose the sources of the millions she channeled to the Question 1 effort.
“The staff recommends viewing the failure of Lisa Scott … to disclose the project’s investors as a very serious violation,” the commission report concludes. “Meaningful information was denied to the Maine public, press and policymakers throughout 2016 and early 2017. A strong enforcement response by the commission is not only fair — it is necessary to impress upon these proponents and future ballot question funders that circumvention of Maine’s political transparency laws will not be tolerated and, when discovered, will result in serious financial consequences. This was a reporting failure that should never have happened. The York County casino initiative is not Shawn Scott’s first experience with a political campaign. He has a history of influencing state laws through initiatives to create lucrative commercial gaming opportunities for himself and his business associates. He and fellow investors spent $4.2 million through April 2017 and received professional advice on campaign finance reporting from attorneys, lobbyists and accountants — and still managed not to disclose the two funders of the effort. It is difficult to believe that this was an accident.”