Maine is a small state with a citizen Legislature that offers its members part-time pay. It would be too much to expect that no lawmaker would ever work for a business or agency that does business with the state, or have a family member who did.

What’s not too much to ask is that every member of the Legislature disclose his or her role in a company that is funded by taxpayers, whether the money goes directly to the legislator or to his boss or his spouse.

Unfortunately, Maine continues to have an ethics law with multi-million dollar holes in it.

Lawmakers can represent their constituents while being paid by a contractor that depends on government contracts for its income. Lawmakers have to report what they earn directly from state contracts, but what they say about indirect benefits is up to them.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting documented this loophole in a recent story that was carried by several Maine newspapers. The report was illustrated with well-known and much-discussed examples.

Former Rep. Joe Bruno of Raymond was House Republican leader when Goold Health Systems received $35.5 million worth of state contracts while Bruno was CEO and president. Bruno served on the board of directors of another business that received $49 million.

Sen. Joe Brannigan, D-Portland, was chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee while serving as executive director of Shalom House, a social service agency that took $98 million in MaineCare funding. Branningan has since retired from Shalom House and still serves in the Legislature, but not as a committee chairman.

Millions of state dollars have been paid to companies associated with lawmakers and high-ranking executive branch officials who are at the table when key provisions of laws are written, but those relationships are not required to be disclosed. Nothing has been changed to require disclosures of relationships such as Bruno’s or Brannigan’s.

That makes no sense. While we don’t think working for an agency that does business with the state should disqualify a lawmaker from public service, constituents ought to know about the relationship. Keeping them secret does nothing to protect the public or make for better process.

Sen. President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said he was unaware of the loophole and is considering filing legislation to close it. That would be a good idea, and one that is long overdue.

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