Maine’s York County Casino Campaign Fighting To Escape $4m Penalty
With less than a week before York County votes on the citizen-initiated referendum Question 1, the Maine Ethics Commission has delayed its decision on whether the campaign that seeks to pass the initiative will be fined for hiding funding sources. Residents of York County, Maine are preparing to vote on Maine Question 1, An Act To Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County on November 7 in a state-wide ballot.
Following the investigation into the Question 1 campaign that has spent close to $9 million to sway voters to pass the question, the commission pushed through with the hearing last Tuesday despite requests from the concerned parties to delay the meeting.
The issue in question is whether the casino campaign has failed to disclose all sources of its funding after it has claimed that Miami real estate developer Lisa Scott is the sole donor to the campaign for over a year.
Lisa Scott, head of the casino campaign committee, admitted she has formed four ballot question committees to contribute to the passing of the question.
Apparently, all four committees also received donations and loans from several businesses. Some of these donations failed to be included in the campaign finance reports that should be filed according to state regulations. This sparked the probe into the finances of the campaign.
The investigation found that many of the undisclosed donations came from businesses tied to Shawn Scott, who is Lisa’s brother. Shawn Scott is the first person expected to qualify for the York County license if Question 1 is passed. Since Lisa Scott is the face and the manager of the casino campaign, she faced heat for the unfiled donations during the hearing. She claimed that many of the money transfers and exchanges were not known to her as the treasurer of the ballot committee.
Attorney Bruce Merrill, who represented Lisa Scott during the hearing, argued that his client only relied on Augusta lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake advice during the campaign. Merrill claimed that Timberlake is only claiming she does not know about the donations to escape the hefty penalty that could be imposed by the committee.
Ethics Director Jonathan Wayne argued that the five-member commission does not need to decide on whether Lisa Scott or Timberlake is telling the truth. All it needs to prove is that funds were not filed correctly to penalize the casino initiative.
The Ethics Commission has yet to disclose the fine amount they could impose if they found that the casino campaign failed to file all donations to their cause. According to campaign finance law, Scott and Timberlake might be looking at as high as $4 million.