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Ethics panel 'peels back the curtain' on Scarborough PAC

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Ethics panel 'peels back the curtain' on Scarborough PAC

SCARBOROUGH — A state ethics commission hearing last week shed some light on operations of the political action committee behind last year's failed Scarborough Downs racino proposal.

Among other things, the hearing revealed a former state legislator was paid $30,000 for services that included his endorsement of the racino proposal. It also revealed some inconsistencies still exist between the paper trail presented to the commission and testimony it received.

The payment to attorney Dan Warren for his involvement with the Scarborough Village Partnership PAC was contained an amended financial report the group filed two months after the November election. Warren received the payment directly from Penn National Gaming in mid-October, but it was not reflected in the PAC's October 24 financial statement.

A newspaper advertisement featuring Warren was similar to others featuring community
members who were not paid for their endorsements, including Board of Education members Jacquelyn Perry and Annalee Rosenblatt, and it contained no
indication that Warren received compensation.

"I think everybody would have felt better in retrospect had he
said he was being paid a consulting fee," Perry said. "If they had said
to me, 'we'll pay you $30,000,' I'd say, 'what for, I'm already in
favor of it.'"

Rosenblatt said she "just wouldn't think to accept payment" for her ad. "I view this as a community service." 

On Wednesday, Warren said he was approached last fall by Scarborough Downs'
attorney, Ed MacColl, to help out with the campaign. Though he'd
been opposed to slot machines in the past, Warren said circumstances like "the Wall Street earthquake" convinced him the
racino might help the town financially and he agreed to support it.

He
said he and his firm, Jones & Warren, were asked to do some analysis
for the PAC, examine "interplay between local and state gambling" and
give political suggestions. When he realized his responsibilities
would take between 10 and 15 hours per week, he said he told MacColl he
would have to be paid. He said he sent e-mails to "a couple
hundred people" he knew announcing he'd "been hired by Scarborough
Downs."

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices expressed interest in both Warren's and Penn National's involvement when it decided last week to fine the PAC, and specifically its treasurer, Kathryn Rolston, $12,250 for violating state election laws in its belated filing of registration and financial disclosures.

In making their decision, commissioners said the delayed reports gave voters no concrete evidence until shortly before the November election that Penn National Gaming was footing the entire cost of the $135,000 campaign to include slot machines in a village development proposed for land owned by Scarborough Downs owner Sharon Terry.

The commission could have imposed a greater fine, but took into consideration that Rolston received incorrect information from Town Clerk Tody Justice about when to file the October financial disclosure.

In their testimony to the commission, both Rolston and MacColl denied that MacColl was an attorney for the PAC. When pressed by commissioners to name the attorney who advised the PAC, neither one acknowledged involvement by any attorney.

When asked in a phone interview Wednesday who the PAC's attorney was, MacColl said, "I believe the (Village Partnership) PAC
got some advice from several lawyers." He would not elaborate.

But in a series of e-mail exchanges with CasinosNo! Director Dennis Bailey in mid-October, MacColl admitted he wrote the referendum. In fact, the e-mails supplied by Bailey to the commission in January convinced commissioners to postpone their decision until they could hear testimony from both Bailey and MacColl last week.

In one of those e-mails, written Oct. 16 in reply to Bailey's accusation that the referendum came from out-of-state interests, MacColl said "... the referendum was not written by an out-of-state firm, but by me."

And in a March 6 letter from MacColl to Jonathan Wayne, the commission's executive director, MacColl said "I had not and have not been paid for the services I provided the Downs related to the referendum, but only because I am just now getting out most of my bills for last year, including bills for work done for the Downs on a wide variety of matters."

Though Warren said he'd been hired by MacColl and though MacColl asserted he wrote the referendum and indicated he would be paid by the Downs for "services (he) provided the Downs related to the referendum,"
Scarborough Downs was not listed by the PAC as supplying any of the money or as a decision maker.

In addition to the news of Warren's involvement, an unexpected statement Rolston made during her testimony appeared to implicate former Town Council Chairman Jeff Messer as having in some capacity with the PAC.

In an attempt to understand who was advising and connected to PAC, Commissioner A. Mavourneen Thompson asked Rolston, "When I asked you about overall budget and so forth and you said you ended up spending $130,000, you said you would have meetings to determine what the next step would be and so forth. With whom were those meetings?"

Rolston listed developer Gene Beaudoin and consultant Steve Westra. She went on to explain it was a two-part campaign that included development at Scarborough Downs and a racino.

Thompson asked her once more, "Was anyone else at those meetings?"

Rolston replied, "Occasionally there were other people at those meetings, some local residents gave input, another woman working in community relations in town, Jeffrey Messer who was the chairman of the town council would occasionally attend."

Messer vehemently denied this week that he had any involvement with the PAC.

"I never participated in any group meeting, never sat down at the table with anybody," he said. "On maybe three occasions I met with Kathryn (Rolston) for five minutes or less."

Messer said he only met with Rolston to view the development plans, examine potential financial benefits to the town and try to obtain accurate statistics of a racino's effect on crime and gambling addiction.

On Monday, after being contacted by Messer, Rolston sent an e-mail to The Forecaster.

"I did not state or imply that Jeff Messer attended Scarborough Village Partnership PAC meetings," she said. "Mr. Messer never had any involvement with the SVP political action committee, was not a decision-maker or involved in the PAC in any capacity. My intention in mentioning Mr. Messer's name to the committee was in answer to the broad question 'who attended meetings' to further my submission that the activities and backers of the campaign were open and town officials were aware of Penn National's financial involvement."

Local anti-racino PAC member Sue Foley-Ferguson attended last week's hearing. She said she was "surprised and shocked" by Rolston's testimony about Messer.

When asked how she interpreted Rolston's comments, Foley-Ferguson said, "I did not read at all that Kathryn (Rolston) was talking about any other kind of meetings but PAC meetings."

Bailey said it was his impression that the commission was "trying to get at who was in charge, who made decisions. She certainly left the impression (Messer) was involved in making decisions."

When asked this week about the apparent inconsistencies between Rolston's testimony and her later e-mail statement, Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the commission, declined to comment.

After the commission rendered its ruling on the PAC, it examined evidence in a counter charge Rolston filed against CasinosNo!. The commission found the group in violation for failing to amend its registration to include its efforts to oppose the Scarborough referendum in addition to its opposition to gambling statewide, but commissioners chose not to levy any penalty.

On Wednesday, MacColl said he was "disappointed" by the commission's decisions.

"I think the fine imposed on Ms. Rolston is unfair and inappropriate and will discourage people who believe in a cause from getting involved in their cause," he said. "With respect to CasinosNo!, (the commission) did not seem to care that CasinosNo! public advertisements asserted they were paid for by a local PAC when they weren't and weren't concerned that the PAC filings were all late."

During last week's deliberations, Commissioner Walter McKee called the case a "classic example of how things can dramatically change with new information."

"We have peeled back the curtain and seen a lot of other things here," he said. "It's crystal clear to me now that this was not a transparent thing here."

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.