By Helen Hanlon
It was a short afternoon today at the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Jonathan Wayne, Director of the Ethics Commission, and I were the only ones there besides the members of the Committee. Up for discussion:
LD298 (An Act to Require Political Action Committees to Report the Receipt of Paid Services From State Agencies)
AKA Revenge of the Black Bear – LD298 requires PACs to report the receipt of paid services from State agencies and must consider these services as a contribution when used to assist or initiate a campaign. Ethics Commission Director Jonathan Wayne explained some of the ramifications of a pending law suit stemming from the Bear Hunting Referendum. A separate bill (LD 990 – AKA Son of Black Bear) may raise similar issues for this Committee in the weeks ahead.
This Bill will only apply if there is a PAC and clarifies that a report must be filed.
Action: Ought to Pass as amended (unanimous).
LD412 (An Act Regarding Telephonic Political Communication and Push Polling)
LD412 amends the law determining what is required of a caller making a political communication via telephone in support of or defeat of a candidate who is clearly identified. The call must be made 21 days prior to a primary or 35 days prior to an election.
The bill requires that for scripted live communication, the source of funding for the calls be provided upon request / where this information can be found. Problems with enforcement, penalties, existing FCC regulations, and live vs pre-recorded calls were issues raised and discussed with Ethics Commission Director Wayne. The number of complaints appears to be small but apparently anti- Paul Lepage calls were an impetus.
Action: Tabled pending further study (unanimous).
LD370 (An Act to Amend the Lobbyist Disclosure Procedures Law)
As previously reported, the $200 fee paid annually by Lobbyists ($100 for associate lobbyist) has been split between general fund and the Ethics Commission. LD370 recommends the total fee remain with the Ethics Commission. This bill would also allow lobbyists to file disclosure forms electronically. They must report if/when they are active or not. Currently this must be done in person with a state employee sign off.
Some discussion about Maine’s fees vs other states (Rep. Kinney reports that the fee in Texas is $750, but of course they have oil, we have lobsters) and the need for some comparison was cited. But staff noted court cases have determined it is the actual need to implement lobbying oversight that should be the determinant of the appropriate fee level.
Rep. Turner worried about the $60,000 the General Fund will lose if LD 370 is passed, Rep. Longstaff was adamant about correcting what was clearly wrong (by putting these fees in the general fund rather than with the Ethics Commission).
The Committee generally felt that the actual costs of the oversight activities of the Ethics Commission as well as projections for future costs would be important information moving into the second session.
Director Wayne stated that IT is an important aspect of future plans to make info available to the public.
Rep. Kinney made the motion: Ought to Pass as amended (future costs analysis, fee comparison data) to be provided at a later date to the Committee.
Rep. Longstaff: made a motion that an explanation of the legal issues regarding the fee staying with the Commission be included.
Rep. Lucchini: moved that the Bill be passed with the Amendments as noted and also leave the Budget / Appropriations piece of this Bill intact so both will move forward to help insure passage (I guess one can be tossed later).
Action: Out To Pass as Amended (all in favor but 1 -Dillingham).