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Democrats Take Issue with Maine State Senate Candidate's PAC Involvement
10/04/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Maine Democrats are crying foul over what they claim is a major violation of the state's Clean Election Act. Ben Grant, the party's state chair, says Republican Sen. Nichi Farnham is a key officer of a GOP political action committee that has spent more than $70,000 on ads targeting her Democratic opponent. Because Farnham is running a publicly-financed campaign, Grant says her PAC involvement violates the election laws that she oversees as chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. A.J. Higgins has more.

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No one is contesting that Republican state Sen. Nichi Farnham of Bangor has been a key officer in a GOP political action committee since February. But Republican leaders insist that Farnham was ever involved in any of the decisions that led to the PAC pending more than $70,000 on ads opposing her Democratic rival, Dr. Geoffrey Gratwick.

"Let's be honest, Nichi Farnham is a class person," says Charlie Webster, state chair of the Maine Republican Party. Webster says Farnham stepped forward in February to lend her name to the PAC but never participated in any discussions about how the money raised would be spent. He says Democrats have taken a cheap shot by going to the Maine Ethics Commission with an allegation they can't prove.

"She's not involved in any of the decision making," Webster says. "It's just unfortunate that they would do that. It's not dignified. She's not someone who would do anything that wasn't above board, and it's just unfortunate that this is what politics comes down to sometimes. I mean the Democrats know she wouldn't have been involved in this, and it's unfortunate that they would make such a claim."

But Democratic State Chairman Ben Grant says it's up to Farnham to explain to the Ethics Commission how she could serve as an officer of a PAC that designates her as a "primary fundraiser and decision maker." He says Farnham's claims of non-involvement and the party's assertions that the failure to remove her name from the PAC's registration filing was a clerical oversight just don't pass the straight-face test.

"There's only one of two possible things that's happened here: Either Nichi Farnham is completely cavalier about what she will sign up for, attach her name to, and attach her name to something that has specific and significant legal consequences - i.e., running the PAC here in Maine. Or she just simply lying right now," Grant says.

Republicans say they are confidant that a signed affidavit from Farnham should resolve the issue. But Democrats say the investigation could should also reveal that the senator conspired to violate the law, which is a criminal offense in Maine.

Tom Porter: And with us now to follow up is MPBN State House Bureau Chief A.J. Higgins. So A.J., it looks like things are starting to heat up in Maine's legislative races, what's at stake for Maine voters this fall?

A.J. Higgins: Well Tom, Democrats certainly upped the ante today and they hope to block the airing of these ads against the Democratic senate candidate in Bangor. But the larger issue of course is whether Republicans will be able to retain control of the Senate and the House where they have been able to implement a significant portion of GOP Gov. Paul LePage's agenda. The Republicans hold a tenuous grip on power - remember LePage squeaked into office with 38 percent of the vote, House Republicans only hold a seven seat advantage and just six in the Senate. Although most of my sources seem to think the Republican majority in the Senate is somewhat secure, others say that both houses could be in play. And the loss of even one chamber could bring GOP plans for tax breaks and health care rollbacks to a halt.

Tom Porter: Are both parties digging deep for campaign spending this year?

A.J. Higgins: It's hard to tell if it will be a banner year for spending on legislative races. To date the two largest PACs have raised nearly $300,000 together, but we should know more by Friday when campiagn finance reports are due.

Tom Porter: And how would you characterize the legislative campaign season thus far?

A.J. Higgins: It's been fairly low-key with the exception of some unexpected developments, We had the unfortunate and untimely death of Republican House candidate Daniel Bates in Gardiner's House District 59. I'm told party officials are hoping to field a replacement candidate. Then David Burke, an independent candidate running for House District 146 in South Berwick was arrested on a domestic violence charge. And finally, Republicans are trying to make hay out of Waterville Democratic candidate Colleen Lachowicz's fantasy life as a knife-weilding orc or something in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft.

Tom Porter: Well keep up the good work, A.J.

A.J. Higgins: I'm trying, Tom.


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