Governor Paul LePage said Thursday that Attorney General Janet Mills should not have sole discretion over how the state spends $21.5 million in settlement money from a court case involving deceptive and unfair practices by a major Wall Street credit rating company.

The governor said in a press release that he will introduce legislation to prevent Mills from what he called “overreaching” her authority. Details of LePage’s bill were unavailable Thursday.

Mills has described the settlement with Standard & Poor’s, which was announced Feb. 4, as the largest ever one-time court settlement in the history of the state of Maine.

Mills announced this month that the state had settled its involvement in the multi-state lawsuit against the New York City-based financial services company, a division of McGraw Hill Financial. Standard & Poor’s publishes financial research and analysis on stocks and bonds.

Mills indicated that the state’s share would go toward consumer protection, providing relief to homeowners going through foreclosure, and education efforts.

“She (Mills) does not have the authority to take settlement proceeds on behalf of the state and unilaterally make policy decisions about how that money should be spent,” Le-Page said in the release. “Not only does her action overstep her authority, but it is also repugnant to the Constitution. As you well know, the Constitution clearly asserts that the power to appropriate revenue is held exclusively by the Legislature and checked by the Executive.”


Mills could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but her spokesman, Timothy Feeley, issued a statement Thursday night.


“The distribution of settlement funds is governed by court order. It is the settlement of a court case, not the appropriation of tax dollars,” Feeley said. “Language giving the Attorney General discretion is common in consumer protection settlements in this and other states.”

LePage and Mills have sparred in the past over a number of issues, including the governor’s attempt to remove 6,000 young adults from the state’s Medicaid rolls.

LePage said his bill will seek to clarify and restrict the scope of the attorney general’s authority over receiving and spending public money. LePage also sent a letter to legislative leaders notifying them of his intentions.

The governor said the settlement stipulates that the $21.5 million should “be used or expended in any way permitted by applicable state law at each state’s sole discretion.” Instead, Mills has reserved for herself ‘sole discretion’ over how the money would be used within a list of specified purposes related to consumer protection, the governor said in the release.


Feeley said there is precedent for the attorney general having some control over dispersement of legal settlement funds. In 2012, former Republican Attorney General William Schneider signed on to the National Mortgage Settlement. The court order allowed Schneider to disburse those funds “at the sole discretion of the Attorney General.”


Feeley said Mills alone will not decide how the $21 million from the settlement will be disbursed. He said Mills is establishing a bipartisan committee of legislators, public officials and financial experts to advise her on how the funds should be spent. According to Feeley the money has not been received.

He said Mills is also interested in hearing from other members of the Executive and Legislative branches about appropriate uses for the money, provided it falls within the dictates of the court order.

“The office spent thousands of hours litigating a complicated major case in state and federal court against a major Wall Street firm – a case that many other states declined to pursue. I am proud that the citizens of Maine will have the benefit of those funds to help remediate the effects of the financial crisis of 2008,” Mills said Thursday.

The lawsuit, which was filed two years ago in Kennebec County, alleged that the credit ratings giant engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in connection how it issued ratings leading up to the financial crisis of 2008.

The $1.375 billion settlement, which involved Maine and 18 other states as well as the District of Columbia, was negotiated in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Holding S&P accountable for these practices tells Wall Street we will not tolerate acts that deceive investors and devastate our economy,” Mills said in a statement issued on Feb. 4. “This settlement shows that banks did not act alone and that the Attorneys General of the states and of the United States will pursue any entity that violates the public trust and stacks the deck against consumers and homeowners.”

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