AUGUSTA — Facing increasing scrutiny by the Legislature and the Maine ethics commission, a Miami real estate developer who appears to have been the main conduit of funding for the campaign to build a casino in York County said Wednesday that she is withdrawing from the effort.

Soon after Lisa Scott issued a statement announcing her decision, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices voted 5-0 to continue its investigation into the sources of $4.3 million that were spent on gathering signatures of registered Maine voters to put the casino proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Lisa Scott

Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said the commission was not aware of Scott’s announcement when it voted Wednesday morning and that it would have no bearing on the investigation.

“One of the compliance issues is whether Lisa Scott filed accurate and complete campaign finance reports on time,” Wayne wrote in an email to the Portland Press Herald.

The commission decided to subpoena information from a pair of companies tied to Scott’s brother, Shawn Scott, despite arguments from Lisa Scott’s attorneys that the information it’s seeking is too broad and has little to do with the campaign.

Commissioner Richard Nass asked lawyers for some of the companies how their clients benefited from keeping the campaign mired in controversy and darkness. “Somebody’s got $4.3 million on the line here,” Nass said. “And it’s really not in your interests to let this go any further if you can clear it up.”

Both of the companies connected to Shawn Scott, Bridge Capital and Capital Seven, have loaned millions of dollars to a trio of PACs set up by Lisa Scott, including one in her name and two others named for companies she owns. The three PACs in turn loaned the cash to the ballot question committee, Horseracing Jobs Fairness, which ran the signature-gathering campaign. Lisa Scott was listed as the principal officer of Horseracing Jobs Fairness when it formed in 2015.

One other company, Regent Able Associate Co., also loaned more than $1 million to one of the three ballot question committees set up by Lisa Scott. Efforts to subpoena Regent Able have been unsuccessful, largely because commission investigators have been unable to locate the company’s headquarters. Wayne said the company had been traced only to “someplace in Asia.” He said investigators have had contact with an unidentified person who they believe works for the company.

Under Maine law, committees that are formed to sponsor or influence ballot questions must file regular campaign finance reports that identify donors, how much they give and how that money is spent.

The proposed wording of the casino proposal, listed as Question 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot, reads: “Do you want to allow a certain out-of-state company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County, subject to state and local approval, with part of the profits going to specific programs?”

Language in the underlying legislation, which is not printed on the ballot, effectively stipulates that Shawn Scott is the only eligible applicant for the casino license.

The public has until Friday to voice objections or otherwise comment on the wording of the ballot question.

Shawn Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slots to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine the first of its two casinos. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates.

The license for a casino in southern Maine could be worth up to $200 million, state officials have said.

Attorneys for Bridge Capital and Capital Seven, incorporated in the Northern Mariana Islands and Nevada, respectively, objected to the subpoenas issued by the commission. They said the subpoenas are too broad and would scoop up sensitive information unrelated to the casino campaign.

The commission, which wants to know where the money to fund the casino campaign came from, mostly spurned those objections but said the companies could withhold some financial records, provided they submit an index of what information is being withheld and the reasons for not disclosing it.

Attorney Thimi Mina, representing Bridge Capital, said some of the records being sought may qualify as “trade secrets” that are protected from disclosure under Maine law.

Lisa Scott’s announcement may have little effect on the casino effort. She appeared to be the source of all the money spent in the campaign, but amended financial reports revealed that she was merely a conduit for loans from others.

She registered as the principal officer for Horseracing Jobs Fairness, the ballot question committee that was formed in December 2015 to support the campaign. The committee was still listed as an active group in the ethics commission’s online records Wednesday.

“I am stepping away from the York County casino development project given that it appears my past involvement has become a distraction from the real issue at hand: Construction of a facility that will provide the residents of Maine with new economic growth, jobs, and funding for K-12 education and other vital programs,” Scott said in her statement.

She amended her financial filings after contacts with the commission’s staff and registered the three additional ballot question committees. All of the committees report contributing large sums to Horseracing Jobs Fairness.

It appears leadership of the campaign is being passed to yet another PAC, Progress For Maine, which just registered with the ethics commission on Aug. 7. Progress for Maine, which is headed by Charlene Cushing of Farmington, reported only $200 in cash contributions from a California woman, but listed unpaid debts of $330,593 for consultants’ fees and other expenditures.

Lisa Scott has been resisting the commission’s efforts to use subpoenas to gain access to her business bank accounts and other documents that the commission believes would shed light on the sources of funding for the campaign. The casino campaign and its backers also have been the subject of close scrutiny by lawmakers, including those on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over casino gambling in Maine.

At an ethics commission meeting Aug. 9, Bruce Merrill, an attorney for Lisa Scott, said she was concerned that confidential information could be exposed if the records being sought were handed over to the panel. Merrill asked that Scott be allowed to redact the documents so that information that was “not relevant” to the probe would be shielded from disclosure.

The five-member commission rejected that request and voted unanimously to move forward with the subpoena.

More recently, the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee voted to launch its own probe of the casino campaign. The committee’s staff in the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability will deliver its findings next month.

Neither investigation will keep the question off the ballot, but the results could influence voters’ perceptions about whether the proposal deserves their support.

Mina, a former assistant U.S. attorney, is the latest high-profile lawyer to join the brigade of well-known litigators working for the Scotts or their companies and committees. Former Maine Attorney General Andrew Ketterer represents Shawn Scott’s Nevada-based Capital Seven. Avery Day, a former general counsel for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, is representing Cheryl Timberlake, a lobbyist who is registered as the treasurer of Horseracing Jobs Fairness.

The casino’s backers have said the development would bring new tourism revenue and jobs to York County, but opponents argue the measure is aimed at benefiting just one person or one company, Shawn Scott or a company he owns, and its creation would severely undermine the business of Maine’s existing casinos in Bangor and Oxford.

Mina said he intended to protect his client’s rights under the law, suggesting the case could end up before a Superior Court judge if they couldn’t agree on which documents would be deemed germane to the commission’s investigation and which would be withheld.

“I’m not going to play games with this commission,” Mina said. “It’s not in my interests as a member of the bar in this court to do that, and I won’t do it, and my client understands that and (Ketterer) feels exactly the same way.”

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

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