s-scarethics-013009 Ethics panel delays decision on racino PAC
SCARBOROUGH — The state panel on campaign ethics Thursday delayed action against racino proponent Scarborough Village Partnership in part after receiving last-minute information from the leader of anti-gambling group CasinosNo.
Although the political action committee that supported establishment of a racino at Scarborough Downs originally faced the possibility of thousands of dollars in penalties for failing to register and file timely financial reports, staff of the state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices Thursday recommended only a $250 penalty.
But action on that recommendation was tabled by the commission at its meeting in Augusta.
In a Nov. 26 letter to PAC Treasurer Kathryn Rolston, commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne told Rolston that penalties could be at least $15,250 and possibly as much as $60,000 or more for registering the PAC a month late with Town Clerk Tody Justice and for failing to file two financial reports on time.
A PAC is required to register with the town clerk within seven days of receiving contributions that exceed $1,500. The law is designed to give citizens information about the groups or individuals contributing financial backing to PACs. In the case of Scarborough Village Partnership, all the financial support – a reported $62,000 in cash and $85,000 in in-kind contributions –came from Penn National Gaming.
The commission staff reduced its recommendation to the amount allowed by law for late registrations, and chose not to recommend additional penalties because Rolston was given incorrect deadline information by Justice.
The mistake was due, in part, because Justice was not aware that the statutory requirement had changed in September 2007. She had informed Rolston in August that the PAC had to register, but was told by Rolston that Scarborough Downs' attorney, Ed MacColl, said it wasn't necessary.
According to Justice's Jan. 20 letter to Wayne, when Rolston finally registered the PAC on Sept. 26, Justice told her the first financial report would be due Oct. 24. When Rolston questioned that date on Oct. 15, Justice called the Ethics Commission and an employee in that department verified she was correct.
Although the misinformation was enough to convince staff to reduce the recommended penalties, several questions remain concerning the accuracy of Rolston's assertions and the behavior of MacColl and Penn National, who have both been through the process before.
In her letter to the commission, Rolston stated, "Throughout this process, the SVP project was intentionally very public. ... We disclosed (Penn National's) financial involvement in the press and in televised meetings."
But in mid-July, Rolston in an interview refused to verify any association with Penn National. She said she did public relations work for the Maine Harness Racing Association with money dedicated from slot machine revenues in Bangor. When she was pressed on whether she worked for Penn National, she said only that she "was an independent contractor."
No mention of Penn National's involvement was made in a glossy, eight-page brochure SVP mailed to all Scarborough residents.
The information provided to the commission Thursday by CasinosNo Executive Director Dennis Bailey contained a series of e-emails traded with MacColl last Oct. 16. In one of them, the attorney claimed he'd written the referendum for Scarborough Downs and not for an out of state company. But the only contributor listed by the PAC is Penn National, with corporate offices in Pennsylvania.
In a Jan. 29 e-mail Bailey wrote to Wayne, he said his group had called the state to question the lack of the partnership's PAC filings.
"While the PAC now says its failure to file timely reports was an error and blames it on incorrect information they received from local officials, why did the other entities involved in the campaign, CasinosNo and Save Our Scarborough, file timely reports based on the correct filing deadlines? Why was Scarborough Village Partnership the only one that failed to register and file timely finance reports?
When it meets again in March, the commission could adopt the staff recommendation or impose a different penalty.