AUGUSTA – Prompted by a matter that came before the state ethics commission this summer, two lawmakers are preparing a bill to make it illegal for Clean Elections-funded candidates to pay their spouses for contract work on their campaigns.
The issue surfaced after last year’s gubernatorial election. Independent candidate Barbara Merrill, whose campaign received money through the taxpayer-funded Clean Election law, paid her husband more than $109,000 to work on her campaign filling roles disbursing money while receiving money for media services.
Earlier this summer, the Commission on Ethics and Election Practices determined that no laws were broken in the Merrill case, but called for legislative action to address payment of Clean Election money to spouses of candidates.
Democratic state Reps. John Piotti and John Brautigam said they will co-sponsor a bill during the 2008 session that would apply to a candidate’s spouse or domestic partner.
The bill envisioned by the two lawmakers would allow family members to be reimbursed for expenses such as gasoline, signs and software, but they could not be paid salaries, money for contract services or consulting fees. The session starts in January.
“There’s a problem not just in Maine, but nationally, where candidates essentially put money donated to their campaigns right back into their own pockets by paying a spouse for ‘contract work,'” said Piotti, of Unity.
He added that Congress passed a ban on the practice for federal races in July, and it’s especially important that Maine lawmakers pass a similar law for state races in which taxpayer money is being used.
Brautigam, of Portland, is a former legal director for a citizens’ group that led the initiative campaign for Maine’s Clean Elections law. Allowing candidates to make money from the taxpayer-financed program violates the spirit of the Clean Election program, he said.