Democratic candidate for governor Diane Russell faces sanctions from the Maine Ethics Commission after its staff found she violated campaign finance reporting law by failing to explain how she spent some of her campaign funds.

The allegation marks the third time in three years the former Portland lawmaker has been charged with campaign finance violations in the course of raising money or running for state office.

In a four-page complaint dated May 18, staff found that Russell didn’t provide enough detail on many expenditures. Generally Russell just reported “travel” or “meals” for her spending, instead of providing more specific information such as “travel to campaign event,” or “food for volunteers.”

In another concern, Russell reported paying a campaign worker $12,368 and listed his address, but failed to disclose that he was living in her house. Finance law requires candidates to note if there is any payee who is a member of their household.

Russell said in an interview Wednesday that she hired a compliance team to make sure her forms were correct, so she was “surprised when (the commission) came back with so many questions.” As for the campaign worker disclosure, Russell said she didn’t realize she had to report that he was living in a spare room in her house rent-free while working on the campaign.

“At the end of the day, it’s my fault, it’s my issue and I take full responsibility for it,” said Russell.

Russell was asked to amend the January 2018 semiannual campaign finance report, and although she requested and got an extension to file the amended report, she never filed it, commission staff said in a memo to the commission for their upcoming meeting. Russell acknowledged failing to file the amended report: “Honestly, I got busy with the campaign.”

The commission will consider the Russell matter at their May 30 meeting in Augusta.

In Russell’s May 2nd filing of her 42-day pre-primary campaign finance report, the descriptions were sometimes snarky and longer – but commission staff still said many of them still failed to include an adequate description of the expense and how it related to Russell’s campaign.

For a $12.17 expense for McDonalds, for example, the description read “Food is a generous term.” A $107.20 expense at UPS said it was “for mailing things.” A $90 Time Warner Cable bill said it was for “a vast series of tubes” and $135 expense for Verizon Wireless said “Can you hear me now? Oh wait, it’s Maine.”

In their report to the commission, the staff wrote dryly: “Some of the entries contain commentary that do not describe the goods or services purchased.”

Russell said she filled the May report herself and conceded, “Yeah, I was totally sarcastic in some of it,” adding that the system is cumbersome and takes hours to fill out.

“Here’s the thing, you have to explain every single expense, every single time, when it’s the exact same thing,” she said. “We’re traveling the state and of course we stop and eat. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to understand that.”

Staff recommended that the commission find Russell violated campaign reporting law, but “we do not recommend financial penalties for these violations, because the Election Law does not prescribe financial penalties for these types of violations.”

Maine election law does not restrict how candidates spend their campaign contributions prior to an election, the staff wrote.

In 2016, Russell was fined $500 by the ethics panel, for failing to report an email list her campaign used to raise nearly $90,000 for her unsuccessful Senate bid in 2015. They rejected a second complaint that Russell used her political action committee to benefit herself.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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