Winterport lawmaker faces fine for missing campaign expenditure reporting deadline
AUGUSTA — Rep. Reagan Paul, R-Winterport, is facing a Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices fine of as much as $1,945.30 for missing a filing deadline related to reporting her campaign’s expenditures. She represents House District 37, representing the communities of Winterport, Prospect, Stockton Springs, Searsport and part of Frankfort.
Candidates spending $1,000 or more in a single transaction within the last 13 days before an election must disclose that expenditure within one day by filing a 24-Hour Report. Paul should have filed this report, according to a memo, for her campaign’s order of $1,986.04 in printed materials Oct. 31, for which payment was processed Nov. 3.
The memo is part of the Jan. 30 pre-meeting packet for the Commission. That meeting will be conducted in person and streamed on the Commission’s YouTube channel. A link to the channel may be found at maine.gov/ethics. The full meeting packet is available here.
The memo, prepared by candidate registrar Erin Gordon, states that the order should have been reported Nov. 1, but was not reported until Paul prepared her 42-Day Post-General Election Report on Dec. 20.
Paul has requested a waiver for the penalty and asks the commission to also find that she did not intentionally violate the law.
“This is my very first time running for office, so the learning curve was steep,” the 23-year-old lawmaker wrote in a letter to the commission, noting that the world of politics and its operations were new to her and to her campaign’s treasurer. “I had no help and had to learn this process as I went along since the very beginning of the year with my primary.”
Paul’s routine for disclosing expenditures with a delay between date of purchase and date of payment processed was to report expenditures when payment completed processing, she wrote in her letter.
“I have recently been made aware that I should have reported them on the date of the expenditure, but at the time I believed my method was what worked best to make sure I reported everything that occurred, as I could open up my bank account online and switch between tabs when I was filing my ethics reports,” she wrote.
A hectic final week of campaigning is the reason Paul cites for why she failed to report the expenditure within the required timeframe.
“That final week was absolutely hectic with the election only days away,” she wrote. “I spent every single day door knocking for hours and hours, on top of trying to maintain my normal life of running a small business, coaching, and other demands of life.”
Reporting the expenditure “slipped my mind,” she wrote to the commission, and she forgot to continue checking her account the week prior to Election Day to see if the payment had yet to process. She admits, in her letter, to not checking her campaign’s bank account until weeks following the election, noting she did not notice the payment had processed until during the filing process for the 42-Day Post Report.
“Admittedly, I wanted a mental break from anything related to the campaign after campaigning for most of the year non-stop because I hadn’t made any more expenditures that would fall in that reporting period,” she wrote.
She said she included the expenditure in her 42-Day Report as a means of being “completely transparent” and believed it would be treated as an amendment to prior filing reports, something she notes she did periodically throughout her campaign when received checks mailed ahead of a reporting deadline but not received by the campaign until after a filing deadline.
In a plea to the commission, Paul wrote: “I apologize for my ignorance in this matter, please know this was in error and due to being new to this and completely overwhelmed the last days heading into the election. I hope you can find it within yourself to forgive my error and waive my penalty and remove the violation from my record, as I would prefer to not have an ethics violation on my record when I have done nothing intentionally unethical and made great efforts to be completely transparent.”
Because the filing was 49 days late, Paul’s penalty would be $1,945.30 as the penalty rate was 2% for Paul, given it was her first violation.
“If the candidate is late filing a 24-Hour Report, the Commission staff calculates a preliminary penalty that is determined by a formula which takes into consideration a percentage of the total contributions or expenditures, whichever is greater, the number of prior violations within a two-year period, and the number of days the report is late,” the memo states, citing state law.
While the commission can fine Paul $1,945.30, the memo notes commission staff recommends reducing the penalty to $350 — a penalty called “an appropriate penalty for this violation” by commission staff.
In its recommendation for any penalty to be assessed against Paul, the staff writes that the commission provides candidates with clearly worded guidance and reminders of filing deadlines, and urges candidates to contact their assigned commission representative with questions.
The memo from commission staff notes there were two reminders in October of the reporting deadline Paul missed, including an email sent Oct. 25 about the requirements to file and an Oct. 19 postcard contained references to the reporting period.
The commission cited three examples since 2018 in which the commission has reduced penalties for missed reporting deadlines down to within the proposed range for Paul (including a 2019 reduction from $3,744 to $400, a 2020 reduction from $529 to $350 and a 2021 reduction from $637.50 to $250).
The nearly $2,000 penalty is “disproportionately high to the degree of public harm and the level of experience of the candidate,” the commission writes in its reasoning for the recommended penalty reduction for Paul.