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Woods: Ethics complaint an attempt to 'improve the process'

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Woods: Ethics complaint an attempt to 'improve the process'

FALMOUTH — The state Ethics Commission is investigating whether the Falmouth Town Democratic Committee acted as a political action committee during last month's Democratic primary in Senate District 25.

Steve Woods, who was defeated by a 2-1 margin by Cathy Breen in the June 10 primary, filed a formal complaint with the commission seeking the probe. Woods contends the Falmouth committee sabotaged his campaign and that its support of Breen crossed legal boundaries.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices voted 3-2 on June 25 to investigate.

"The Democratic leaders in Falmouth organized and conspired with both malice and predatory intent to have the election be anything but (fair)," Woods said this week. "There's a group of about a dozen people in the Falmouth Democratic Party who go far beyond the parameters of good judgement or ethics in how they approach politics and governance in Falmouth. And it's happened for years."

Woods singled out Pamela Fenrich, chairwoman of the Falmouth Democrats, in particular, as well as Breen, state Rep. Mary Nelson, and other members of the committee.

In documents submitted to the Ethics Commission, he contends that the group acted unethically when it used a Voter Activation Network to send out an email endorsing Breen in the days before the election.

Although the committee denied that allegation, it was the one element of Woods' case that appeared to resonate with Ethics Commission members.

Woods' complaint also includes arguments that the support and influence the committee provided to Breen's campaign, while not in the form of fundraising contributions, were worth tens of thousands of dollars. He said the meeting at which the group voted to endorse Breen was a sham, and notice of the meeting was given only to Breen's supporters. And he asserts that Breen and her supporters illegally campaigned at the polls on June 10.

"The various elements representing a conflict of interest are significant," Woods said.

Breen on Tuesday shrugged off concerns about the investigation.

"The Democrats of Senate 25 have spoken, and it's time to move on," she said. Asked whether the commission's vote to launch an investigation may add some validity to Woods' complaints, she said, "I don't really have a comment about that." 

Woods, owner of a Falmouth-based marketing company and former chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council, ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2012 and for governor in 2013. Last week, he released a year-old memorandum of understanding between himself and the Maine Democratic Party showing he agreed to drop out of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign when U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud entered the race.

Woods said party leaders violated a neutrality clause in the agreement by supporting Breen in the primary.

Despite his conflicts with Democrats both in Falmouth and at the state level, Woods this week called himself a "proud" Democrat. And he said he's not looking for the secretary of state to overturn the primary election results.

He said he sought the investigation because he wants to improve the political process.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.

This story was edited on July 3 to reflect that Steve Woods is no longer chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council. He resigned from that post on June 11.