Monday, July 18, 2011

Maine politics: Raye for Transparency; Crafts in the Clear

Two updates from Maine political stories I've been following:

Raye for Transparency: In my last Working Waterfront column, I called attention to a critical shortcoming in our state's lawmaking process: the relative inaccessibility of public testimony and supporting documentation submitted to legislative committees to influence their stand on proposed laws.

Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Perry) sent me a note this weekend saying he and the senate chair of the Government Oversight Committee, Roger Katz (R-Augusta), had seen the piece and agreed that these materials should be available online. He said they would ask David Boulter, Executive Director of the Legislative Council, to
add this item to the agenda for the council's August meeting.

"As we consider ways to make the legislative process more efficient and transparent, I want to explore the feasibility of making electronically available to the public not only written testimony before legislative committees but also the memos prepared for committees by [the
Office of Policy and Legal Analysis] recapping the information received during public hearings," Sen. Raye wrote. "Both play a very significant role in how committee members perceive and handle bills."

That's one of the many things I like about my native state: when common sense problems get identified -- even in a modest setting -- it's not that uncommon for our political leaders to take corrective action.

Crafts in the Clear: While covering Rep. Dale Crafts' (R-Lisbon) effort to pass a law to help the infamous egg magnate Jack DeCoster, I became curious as to the legislator's motivations, particularly following his giving erroneous testimony before his fellow legislators, both at the labor committee and, later, the house floor. Was Mr. DeCoster a major donor? Certainly not to Crafts' own campaign, as he is a clean elections candidate, but what about to his political action committee, the Working People for Hope and Change PAC?

Dirigo Blue also noticed, Rep. Crafts' PAC raised a suspiciously large quantity of funds from small (thus, unreportable) donors in a short period of time: almost $7000 in a little over four months, all from contributions of less than $50. Did a relatively green legislator from a rural, not particularly affluent district, who hadn't had to build a fundraising apparatus of his own really manage to get some 140 people to donate to his obscure PAC (which funneled most of it on to Sen. Douglas Smith's Still Fed Up With Taxes PAC)?

The answer is yes., he did exactly that.

I asked the State Ethics Commission to review Rep. Crafts' PAC contributions to ensure they really did come from small donors. Officials there met with Crafts who, indeed, produced photocopies of the individual, $49 checks from small donors, which accounted for all but $122 of the PAC's funds. Let the record show that Crafts is an effective retail fundraiser. Whatever his motivations for helping DeCoster, PAC donations isn't among of them.

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