The state House of Representatives voted unanimously Thursday to ask Maine’s highest court to review constitutional questions about Treasurer Bruce Poliquin’s private business activity.
Members voted 122-0 to send a set of questions presented by Rep. Philip Curtis, R-Madison, to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The request effectively asks whether owning or managing a business affects the treasurer’s ability to do the job.
Poliquin, a Republican who ran for governor in 2010, applied to the Phippsburg Planning Board late last year for a permit to expand one of his businesses, the Popham Beach Club. He also is the sole owner of a company that is developing condominiums near the beach club in Phippsburg.
The Maine Constitution says the state treasurer cannot engage in “trade or commerce.”
Attorney General William Schneider has said that Poliquin should “disassociate” himself from his businesses and “should not appear before any governmental bodies on behalf of entities that he owns.”
At the same time, Schneider said there is a lack of clear guidance from the courts. He did not address the question of whether Poliquin’s action amounted to a violation of the Maine Constitution.
Poliquin did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. He has said that it was a mistake to appear before the Phippsburg Planning Board on behalf of the beach club, and that he lets others manage his businesses.
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, first raised the constitutional questions and asked for the attorney general’s review. Dion also asked the House to send a set of questions to the court for review. His request was more detailed than the one approved Thursday with support from the Republican majority.
Dion congratulated Republicans for agreeing to the unusual step of sending the matter to the court. He told House members that his more detailed request was intended to help the court, not politicize the issue.
“I appreciate the fact that as legislators we’ve agreed in principle that these questions need to be asked,” Dion said.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said it’s critical that the Legislature get answers because the state treasurer may play a key legal role if the state decides to issue any bonds to pay for transportation improvements and other projects.
“We have some concern about any ambiguity of the treasurer’s status,” she said.
Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, said Republican lawmakers, and Poliquin himself, are pleased that the questions will get addressed by the court.
“The court has the opportunity to provide us with a clear directive,” Cushing said.
Poliquin faces intense scrutiny from Democrats and other critics.
They have complained that Poliquin failed to disclose his business holdings on a financial disclosure form last year. The Maine ethics commission ruled Wednesday that his filing was not complete but was substantially in compliance with the law. He has added information to the form and was not fined.
Critics also have accused Poliquin of abusing a commercial forestry program as a property tax shelter for his oceanfront property in Georgetown. He has not responded to those allegations, except to dismiss them as politically motivated.
Poliquin became the target of those accusations after he emerged as an outspoken critic of Democrats, including the director of the Maine State Housing Authority.
Dion said Thursday that the questions are legal, not political. “Mr. Poliquin must be held accountable for his actions. You can’t break the law and then walk away,” he said in a written statement after the vote.
House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said sending the matter to the court will remove the politics.
The Attorney General’s Office looked at the business activity and did not conclude that Poliquin should be penalized, Nutting said in a written statement. “Still, the issue does raise questions about what constitutes ‘business’ in the eyes of the court. Getting some clarity on this will benefit not only the current treasurer, but those who are elected to the post in the future.”
MaineToday Media State House Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: