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Ethics commission staff recommends reducing fine for failed casino campaign

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AUGUSTA – The backers of a failed referendum drive to bring a casino to York County in 2017 could be getting a major reduction in the fine they owe for violating Maine’s campaign finance laws.

The Maine Ethics Commission voted just before the election last November to levy a record-setting $500,000 fine against several organizations tied to Lisa Scott and the ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness.

But the commission’s staff, in a memo published Tuesday, recommends lowering the fine to $100,000 because Scott lives in St. Kitts and has no assets in this country that could be seized to satisfy the penalty.

The staff noted that Cheryl Timberlake, a Maine-based lobbyist who served as the committee’s treasurer, is the only party who lives in the United States, and collecting the full amount of the fine, even if the commission were to prevail in the courts, would be unlikely.

“Under the circumstances, it would not be a good use of public resources to pursue a collection action that is so unlikely to succeed,” the memo says. “The Commission’s determination, including the size of the penalties imposed, should serve as a significant deterrent to future violations and encourage others engaging in initiative and referendum campaigns to comply fully with Maine’s campaign finance disclosure laws.”

Attorneys for Scott had appealed the fine to the courts and Tuesday’s staff memo suggests the lower amount would allow the commission to settle that lawsuit.

The four-member commission, which oversees campaign finance disclosure law, voted in June 2017 to investigate the ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness, where it got its financing to collect signatures to put the casino referendum on the ballot and why it failed to meet finance report filing deadlines.

Three other ballot question committees formed by Scott were also swept into the investigation and all four were penalized in November for missing the deadlines to file campaign finance reports that accurately reflected who was bankrolling the campaign.

Scott is the sister of international gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott, who ushered in Maine’s first casino with a ballot question measure in 2003. If the casino proposal had passed, only one company, Shawn Scott’s Nevada-based Capital 7, would been allowed to apply for the casino license.

Voters rejected the casino question in a landslide vote, with 83 percent of voters opposing the measure. Supporters of the measure, led by Scott, spent nearly $9 million on their futile bid and a two-year effort to collect enough voter signatures to get the question on the ballot.

The commission’s proposed penalty was almost 10 times more than the previous record fine, a $50,250 penalty it imposed in 2014 against the National Organization for Marriage for not registering and filing campaign finance reports as a ballot question committee in the 2009 elections.

Under state law the casino committee and its backers could have faced a fine as large as $4.5 million.

The Ethics Commission meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday to take up the agreement and consider other fine waivers for lesser campaign finance violations involving candidates for the Legislature

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

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