Legislators who make money from state contracts will be required to disclose more information to the public under a bill that the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is considering today.

The bill, L.D. 1806, was proposed by Gov. Paul LePage after a Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting story showed that between 2003 and 2010, the state paid nearly $235 million to organizations run by state legislators or their spouses. That’s not illegal, but LePage’s bill will require lawmakers to disclose such payments more fully on annual reports that are public documents.

As it is now, legislators are required to report state funds paid to themselves or their spouses. The bill expands that to immediate family members. Also, if the legislator or an immediate family member has an official affiliation with an organization that has sold more than $1,000 in goods or services to the state, that must be disclosed as well.

Many of the expanded disclosure requirements also would apply to executive branch employees and constitutional officers.

During its investigation, the center found various examples of Democrats and Republicans who worked for organizations — both for-profit and nonprofit — that received millions in state funding that was never disclosed. In Maine, it’s not uncommon for sitting lawmakers to work for groups that get state funds, particularly because legislative salaries are less than $14,000 a year. The bill simply would make it more obvious to the public when there’s a potential conflict of interest for a lawmaker.

Another money trail

Rep. Les Fossel, R-Alna, wants to require Americans Elect, which just earned a spot on the November presidential ballot in Maine, to disclose its funding sources.

His bill, which still is being drafted, was given bipartisan approval to move forward this session by legislative leaders. A few weeks ago, independent Eliot Cutler, who finished second in the race for governor in 2010, announced that the group had qualified for the ballot. When asked why its leaders didn’t disclose their funding sources, he said many of them feared retribution from the two major parties.

Fossel said he wants lawmakers to look at Americans Elect – which is officially a nonprofit not affiliated with a party or ideology – to make sure they aren’t skirting state disclosure laws.

“We need to take a close look at this in committee and make sure it is not just a political organization exploiting election law loopholes to shield its donors,” he said.

MCLU head floats trial balloon

Like 30 or so others, Maine Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Shenna Bellows is testing the waters for a possible run for higher office.

Bellows announced on her Facebook page Saturday night that she’s collecting signatures for a possible run for the 1st Congressional District. Bellows’ decision was confirmed by a Democratic source Saturday night.

Several Democrats are considering the 1st District if U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree decides to run for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat. Expect more announcements today about those who are in and out of the Senate and House races.

If she runs, Bellows willl take a leave of absence from the MCLU.

Stunning announcement

Truly surprising announcements are rare in politics these days.

With email, Twitter, Facebook, text messages, cell phones and the human need to gossip, it’s hard to keep anything a secret. Snowe did just that, shocking fellow Republicans with her decision not to run again.

Several Maine Republicans apparently were gathering at party headquarters last week when the news broke. A blog post on the party website shared these details:

“The Headquarters was beginning to fill with representatives from the Governor’s office, the Maine Senate and the Maine House for a planning meeting for the upcoming election cycle and there was certainly no clue about the news that was coming,” the post says, without identifying the writer. “In fact, there is probably no one that was there that even remembers who delivered the message but what can be certain is that it stunned everyone and a hush filled the room as if the death of a loved one had just been announced.”

The blogger goes on to describe Snowe as “a living icon of all that is good and she will be revered in Maine and across this great nation by Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike.”

New deadlines

With just seven weeks left in the legislative session, leadership is directing committees to pick up the pace on the bills they have before them — and give shorter public notice for new bills coming through the pipeline.

A memo from Senate President Kevin Raye and House Speaker Bob Nutting directs committee chairmen to make sure all bills are voted out by Friday. Any new bills that get sent to committee from now on don’t need to be advertised in newspapers at all, the memo says.

For the public, that means it’s even more important to check the online legislative calendar regularly (www.maine.gov/legis) and, if you’re in Augusta, to swing by committee rooms to look for new postings.

Adjournment is scheduled for April 18, although as in years past, that’s expected to be a somewhat fluid date.

State House writer Susan Cover wrote these notebook items.


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