Radio ad concern dropped by ethics commission
AUGUSTA - Characterizing it as "presenting some unusual legal issues," the state's ethics commission staff decided against pursuing a matter in which republican congressional candidate John Frary of Farmington, paid for a radio ad that mentioned a Maine Clean Election Act candidate running in another race.
According to state law, those involved in state campaign races need to report any money spent on either side that identifies a clean election candidate 35 days before a general election.
The radio ad, which linked democrats, state Rep. John Martin, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Gov. John Baldacci as "the three amigos of the north woods" with a final message of "throw the bums out!" ran in October as part of Frary's failed campaign effort to unseat incumbent Michaud for Maine's 2nd congressional seat.
Former state Sen. John Martin of Eagle Lake, running unopposed as a candidate for the state House of Representatives in the Nov. 4, 2008 election, notified the Maine's Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices of Frary's radio ad.
According to Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the ethics commission, Martin questioned his ability to respond to Frary's attack given that he wasn't receiving state money as a clean election candidate running unopposed.
This week, Wayne asked Frary to submit an explanation of his radio ad's intent and cost.
In his response letter sent to Wayne, Frary admitted he mentioned Martin in the ad and that it was aired and paid for within the 35 days of the election. But, he said, the ad was not meant to influence Martin's campaign, adding, "I don't see how that is applicable to a contest where a candidate is running unopposed."
What makes this case unique, Wayne said, is that Frary, running as a federal candidate, paid for the ad which mentions a candidate running in a state race.
"This matter presents some unusual legal issues for the commission in administering" the law, Wayne said in his letter to Frary today. "Until this year, the commission has never had occasion to decide whether the Legislature intended 21-A M.R.S.A. 1019-B (1)(B) to apply to communications mentioning candidates in one election race that are paid for by candidates in another race."
Wayne added that after consulting with the commission's legal counsel, he does not intend to bring the matter up during the commission's public meeting. He said the major reason is the difficulty in determining if the law that seeks to require independent campaign expenditures having to do with state clean election candidates, would also pertain to a federal candidate, as Frary was.
"Please do not take this decision by the commission staff as agreement with the proposition that federal candidates and political action committees may never be regulated by state election law due to federal preemption.," Wayne said.
For Frary, all this has been "interesting," he said today.
"Oh, it's just another tempest in the chamber pot," he added.