Farnham finance questions show flaws in system (with update)

State Senator Nichi Farnham has had an ethics complaint filed against her with potentially serious charges. As David Farmer explains:

The complaint stems from the dual role that Farnham plays as both a publicly financed, Clean Election Act candidate for the state Senate and her possible role as the principal officer, primary fundraiser and decision maker for a political action committee.

In return for receiving public financing, Clean Election Act candidates cannot solicit or accept contributions to their campaign, and they cannot coordinate with PACs that make expenditures on their behalf.

Farnham’s PAC, the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC, reported spending nearly $73,000 against her general election opponent, Democrat Geoffrey Gratwick.

The Bangor Daily News reports, “James Cote, a consultant for the political action committee, the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC, said Farnham is no longer an officer and that her name was left on committee paperwork due to an administrative oversight.” The news story quotes Farnham thusly: “I haven’t been involved because I knew I wouldn’t have time,” she said. “I told them early on I certainly wouldn’t be available to make decisions like that.”

While Senator Farnham denies actual involvement with this PAC, Farmer notes that the treasurer of the organization copied her on emails just a few months ago, suggesting that she was at least in the loop when it came to their operations. This makes the complaint more credible.

But no hearing will likely be held before the November election, leaving these questions out there.

In the past, campaign finance violations were also handled late, with situations adjudicated and fines handled down after the voters had a chance to learn their disposition.

Campaign finance violators know that they can act in contradiction to laws and regulations and then just pay the fine, which just becomes another campaign expense.

This is unfair to voters, and to innocent candidates or issue campaigns which are under a cloud, as well as to opponents of those who break the law or rules.

Complaints should be handled more quickly to avoid these problems.

Update: Since posting this, I have learned that there will be a hearing of the Maine Ethics Commission before the election, to be held on October 31. This will enable all evidence to be presented. However, it seems doubtful that there will be a ruling before the election.

Note: This story has been edited since it was first posted in order to clarify the disagreement about the facts of the case.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.