Political ads draw questions

BAR HARBOR — Last month town officials requested, then withdrew the request, for the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics to investigate whether three citizens were required to register with the town clerk’s office money spent during a citizen initiative campaign.

The request came after Town Clerk Sharon Linscott sent certified letters on June 7 to the three citizens, Charles Sidman and Don and Pat Murphy, telling them that the town’s campaign reports ordinance requires anyone spending more than $1,500 on a local election campaign to register as a Political Action Committee (PAC) and file reports with the clerk.

Sidman responded to the town by email on June 10, stating that he would not file any reports with the town.

Upon request from the town, Jonathan Wayne of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics wrote to Sidman and the Murphys, asking them to contact him to determine if they were required to file a campaign finance report with the town.

“Please accept my assurance as a state election official that these registrations and campaign finance reports are routine in Maine,” Wayne wrote in the June 19 letter. “There is no intention by this office to single out your petitioning committee or to discourage political activity in Bar Harbor.”

Attorney Arthur Grief, representing the Murphys, wrote in a June 26 letter to Linscott and Jonathan Wayne of the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics that his clients did “on their own accord” spend $318.16 and $125.10 on two advertisements in the Islander in support of Articles 4 and 5.

Grief argued the Murphys, acting independently, were not a PAC; and even so their contributions were well under the $1,500 threshold.

Greif wrote that while a petitioning committee had been formed to gather signatures to get two citizens’ initiatives on the ballot, it had since “ceased any active involvement or meetings.”

According to Town Manager Cornell Knight, the town learned from the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics that Sidman had acknowledged paying around $1,750 for a mailing to Bar Harbor residents in support of citizens’ initiatives.

However, Knight said, “the state looked into it, and since they didn’t communicate with each other,” Sidman and the Murphys were determined to be acting as individuals and not a PAC.

“It was a close call,” Knight concluded. The town withdrew its request for an investigation on July 10, according to a letter from Wayne.

In a July 16 email to the Islander, Geif said the town had not informed his clients, the Murphys, either of the initial request for investigation, or the withdrawal of request. The Murphys learned of both actions by the state.

“When a Town asks an Augusta commission to investigate one of its own voters, it ought, at a minimum, copy the voter on that request,” wrote Greif. “Openness, civility, and common courtesy demand no less.”

The campaign reports ordinance was adopted by the Town Council in February of this year.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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