AUGUSTA — Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing was fined $9,000 Wednesday by the Maine ethics commission for violating the state’s campaign finance laws in 2016.

The total reflects two fines – $1,500 for filing records of campaign contributions nearly five months late in his re-election campaign, and $7,500 for misreporting filings on a leadership political action committee that Cushing heads. While substantial, the $9,000 is only a small fraction of the maximum $105,000 penalty that the Newport Republican could have faced under the law.

The campaign finance reports were amended after the fact, so that fine effectively reflects a late filing penalty for 10 of the PAC’s reports. The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices voted 3-2 to support both fines.

Cushing said after the vote that he was satisfied with the process but he disliked the size of the fine, one of the highest levied recently by the commission but well below its largest fine of $50,250. That penalty was assessed against the National Organization for Marriage for not registering and filing campaign finance reports as a ballot question committee in the 2009 elections.

“There is certainly room for discussion as to what the intent of campaign laws are related to campaigns and what happens with the type of expenditures we are mostly dealing with here,” Cushing said. “I respect the time and the effort that they and staff put into this in coming up with their decision.”

The fines follow an investigation by the commission’s staff that was prompted by an October 2016 complaint by Cushing’s sister, Laura Cushing McIntyre of Hermon.

McIntyre has also filed a lawsuit against Cushing, his wife and his adult children in Penobscot County Superior Court over the alleged transfer of more than $1 million from a family business to his personal and campaign accounts. That case remains under litigation.

About $11,000 in loans from Cushing’s Respect Maine PAC to New England Forest Products, a business that Cushing held a 50 percent share of in 2016, were also revealed as part of the ethics investigation. The probe concluded that the PAC failed to report the loans and that it appears only $8,000 was returned to the PAC. Cushing told commissioners Thursday that the business had been sold and he no longer was a partner in it.

According to a report by the commission’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne, the loans to the business from the PAC were “short-term” in nature and meant to cover seasonal purchases and other expenses when the “ordinary cash flow of (New England Forest Products) was not sufficient.”

Joshua Tardy, an attorney for Cushing and a former Republican minority leader in the Maine House, told the commission that the transfer of PAC funds to the business was not against state law and did not have any political ramifications in terms of influencing the outcome of an election campaign. Tardy said Cushing’s late reporting of donations to his own Senate campaign likewise had no impact on that race.

In their discussion of the late filings, commissioners seemed to agree that Cushing, now serving his third term in the Senate and a veteran of two terms in the House, should have been aware of the reporting requirements in Maine’s campaign finance laws.

“There is an overarching pattern of failure to disclose over a long period of time,” Commissioner Meri Lowry, a Democrat from Portland, said as she argued for a larger fine. Lowry later said she had been persuaded by Tardy and Cushing that the impact on any elections was negligible.

Commissioner Richard Nass, an Acton Republican, argued for fines no greater than $8,000 and, along with Commissioner Bradford Pattershall, a Freeport Republican, voted against imposing the $9,000 overall fine.

Nass agreed that Cushing’s record-keeping was “appalling.” But he also praised Cushing’s active involvement in state politics and his work in recruiting candidates to run for office.

“He is very good at what he does, and we owe him, and I think the system owes him, thanks for that, for all the years of work he’s done for this area,” Nass said, arguing that the filing violations “don’t detract from what he’s contributed to the system.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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