A conservative group led by a Republican state lawmaker could be in violation of state ethics laws because of the release of a flier that targets the Maine House majority leader by suggesting he supports harboring illegal immigrants and terrorists in Maine.

The flier, which recently went out to voters in parts of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District via postal mail, features a photo of Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, along with the text, “Should Maine taxpayers continue to give welfare benefits to Islamic State terrorists living in Maine? Ask Jeff McCabe!”

It also talks at length about the city of Portland as an “ISIS incubator,” describes ways in which Maine has served as a “harboring haven” for Islamic terrorists and criticizes McCabe for not supporting L.D.1652, a bill that would have cut off state funding to communities that prohibit police from asking about a person’s immigration status.

McCabe, a four-time state representative who is challenging Sen. Rod Whittemore in a race to represent Senate District 3, on Wednesday called the flier misleading. Meanwhile, an official with the Maine Ethics Commission also said the group that sent it, the New England Opportunity Project, could be in violation of state ethics laws for failing to disclose the cost of the fliers. Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, co-founded the group and is its president.

“I in no way support giving benefits to folks that are here in Maine illegally, and that’s something I will continue to take a stand on,” McCabe said in response to the flier Wednesday. “I found the flier to be really misleading and I also found it disturbing that it wasn’t disclosed to the state ethics commission. It seems to be a way that this organization, Rep. (Larry) Lockman and my opponent’s supporters are trying to circumvent the ethics process.”

The Maine Democratic Party also condemned the fliers Wednesday, with Chairman Phil Bartlett saying in a statement that he was “not surprised by this shadowy group’s lack of transparency.”

“Not only is this attack against Majority Leader Jeff McCabe ludicrous, but this group also may have violated Maine’s campaign finance law by failing to report this expenditure to the Ethics Commission,” Bartlett said.

Officials with the Maine Republican Party declined to comment on the fliers and said they were not connected with or aware of them.

Lockman, who is running for re-election in House District 137, described the nonprofit New England Opportunity Project as nonpartisan as well as having a mission to “take on these left-wing progressives and fight fire with fire.”

Lockman is widely regarded as a polarizing legislator in Maine and has been criticized for comments on abortion, gays and rape.

L.D. 1652, which was proposed by Gov. Paul LePage and sponsored by Lockman, was tabled indefinitely in March after a motion from McCabe, who told the Portland Press Herald at the time that the late-session bill was “political in nature,” while a fellow Democratic lawmaker called it “blatantly racist.”

Lockman said Wednesday that the flier was not aimed at swaying voters as they consider McCabe in the upcoming election and was simply “voter education,” though McCabe and the Maine Ethics Commission called into question the flier’s timing and content. Whittemore, R- Skowhegan, McCabe’s opponent in the Senate race, said he had not seen the flier but had heard of it and found it “very disappointing.”

“I’ve been trying to run a positive campaign here,” he said. “I haven’t seen it and I don’t have any control over it.”

The flier was sent out in Maine’s 2nd District to an area larger than Senate District 3, according to Lockman, though he would not say exactly how many people received it or where they lived. He said his group has not sent out any other political literature to date, but “there is likely to be more before the year is over” and they would have liked to send out more of the McCabe fliers.

Paul Lavin, assistant director of the Maine Ethics Commission, had not seen the flier but said that if a piece of literature clearly identifies a candidate in a race — whether by name, picture or another reference — that is enough to qualify it as a reportable campaign expenditure.

“Even if it doesn’t say, ‘Vote for,’ or ‘Vote against,’ or include other language of advocacy, it doesn’t matter; it’s still presumed to be an independent expenditure that has to be reported,” Lavin said Wednesday.

Lockman would not say how much money was spent on the flier, but Lavin said based on the presumed area it was sent to, it likely would meet the state’s threshold for reporting, which is $250 per candidate mentioned.

McCabe said it was clear to him that the flier was sent out during the election cycle purposely, though Lockman said the timing was tied only to his organization, which started last year, finally having enough money to send out literature. He also said the time of year played a role — saying it’s a “time of year people are paying closer attention to legislative issues” — but said it had nothing to do with the election cycle.

“It’s very discouraging that they are denying this is actually a campaign flier,” McCabe said. “It’s something that could have been sent out in the summer; it could have been sent out during the session.”

Lavin said it is unusual for a group not to report independent expenditures and did not say definitively whether the commission would be investigating.

In order to determine if a violation has occurred, the commission would have to review the expenditure. Penalties are dependent on the size of the expenditure and how late the filing is, Lavin said. Under Maine law, expenditures must be filed within two days of the expense.

“I think it would be hard to say the purpose was not for influencing the election,” Lavin said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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