Over the last year, Bruce Poliquin has shown that it wasn’t going to be business as usual in the state treasurer’s office.

Elected by the Legislature with support from the governor, Poliquin has acted more like a member of the LePage administration than a constitutional officer, serving as point man for the governor’s legislative agenda on pension reform, tax-cutting and a bond moratorium in the face of major infrastructure needs around the state. Lately, Poliquin has been keeping himself in the news through his relentless efforts to oust Maine State Housing Authority Executive Director Dale McCormick.

Poliquin clearly likes being the center of attention, but now he is getting some of the wrong kind. His public effort to get permits for a real estate project in Phippsburg, a beach club that increases the value of a nearby housing development he created, is raising concerns about whether Poliquin is complying with the state constitution’s limits on a treasurer’s private business activities.

The constitution states: “The treasurer shall not, during the treasurer’s continuance in office, engage in any business of trade or commerce, or as a broker, nor as an agent or factor for any merchant or trader.”

State Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, has asked for an opinion from Attorney General William Schneider, who last year resolved a similar question by finding that Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Darryl Brown was not qualified to serve because his business experience created a conflict under federal law. Poliquin has asked to get his case on this week’s ethics commission agenda, but it appears that his request comes too late for that body. That shouldn’t stop Poliquin from explaining himself in public, something the treasurer has shown he is more than willing to do on other matters.

If Poliquin can’t explain why what he has been doing in Phippsburg is not engaging in commerce, he could ease the controversy by taking a break from his private business during his term of public service. Or he could step down as state treasurer and let someone with fewer demands on his time do the job.

Poliquin should at least admit that when it comes to conflicts of interest, maybe business as usual is not such a bad thing.

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