WATERVILLE — Mark Andre is owed over $5,000 from the state government, and he wants it now.

But an added wrinkle to Andre wanting his money? That $5,000 is supposed to come from the Maine Clean Elections Act for Andre, the Republican nominee for House District 110, to compete in the November general election.

In a bizarre series of events, Andre is the only candidate who, as a qualified Clean Elections candidate, did not receive the $5,075 owed to him.

The Clean Elections Act, established in 1996, is a voluntary program that fully finances qualified individuals running for governor or the Legislature. To qualify, candidates must collect a minimum number of checks or money orders of $5 or more made payable to the Maine Clean Election Fund, and once qualified, cannot accept private contributions.

However, timing has left Andre without his cash. Because of a Republican primary vote recount in House District 110 — which Andre still won — Andre has been left without the money. The recount occurred close to the end of June, and as of July 1, the state has been unable to make payments for Clean Elections, as the biennial budget was reduced.

Andre, of Waterville and the owner of Thornridge Farms Nursery in Fairfield, on Wednesday said the Ethics Commission is funding his opponent unfairly and not him for the November election. His Democratic opponent, Colleen Madigan, was able to start campaigning three days after the primary, while Andre said he has been told he has to campaign without funding. He said the Ethics Commission should not have relied on the Legislature to fix this.

“The solution I’ve given them is to allow me to loan the campaign the funds in anticipation of the funds eventually coming through,” he said.

Andre defeated his challenger, Jacob Imes, in the June 12 election. On June 24, Andre was notified by the secretary of state’s office that Imes had called for a recount. At the time, Andre was out of the country, in Canada, and returned days before the recount was conducted on July 6. The results showed Andre still won, 210-202. However, because of the timing of the recount, Andre did not receive the campaign money from the MCEA.

According to a letter from Jonathan Wayne, executive director of Maine’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, as of July 1 the commission has been “prevented from making any payments from the Maine Clean Election Fund … for non-personnel purposes.” The letter is directed to Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, whom Andre contacted for assistance.

“In the 2017 biennial budget law, the Maine legislature provided sufficient revenue for the Commission to pay MCEA funds to 2018 candidates but reduced the Commission’s All Other allocation (spending authority) by $3 million for (fiscal year) 2019. … This unintentionally eliminated the Commission’s ability to make All Other expenditures from the MCE Fund during this fiscal year.”

So because the recount took place after June 30, Andre became ineligible to receive the campaign funds he had qualified for.

“Consequently, the Commission is presently unable to make any All Other expenditures from the MCE fund, including payments to candidates or to our information technology vendor or auditor,” Wayne wrote. “If we tried to make an All Other expenditure, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services would not process it, because we currently have a negative allocation.”

In his letter to Wayne, Katz stated the recount shouldn’t play a part in whether Andre gets his campaign funds.

“I am well aware of the current mess in which we find ourselves regarding Clean Elections funding, but Mark Andre is the certified nominee for the November election, he long ago qualified for Clean Elections funding status, and he is entitled to the same Clean Elections funding as every other candidate,” Katz wrote.

Wayne wrote that the Commission made initial MCE payments to candidates on June 20. As usual, they did not pay some candidates who were in races that were still too close to call and would have to wait for recount results. Early results had Imes leading over Andre, who has run for this seat three times before. To preserve the ability to pay either Andre or Imes, the department proposed to print checks for both candidates and hold them until the results became official, as both Andre and Imes had qualified as clean elections candidates. However, on June 29, the department was informed by the Office of the State Controller would not release a payment under those circumstances.

“The most effective avenue for Mr. Andre to receive his initial payment of $5,075 is for the Maine Legislature to enact legislation increasing the Commission’s allocation for FY 2019,” Wayne wrote. “The Legislature has been widely aware of the problem since April 2018. The inability by the Maine Legislature to pragmatically fix this issue has upset candidates’ plans, limited their First Amendment activities, and diverted hundreds of hours of Ethics Commission staff time from other important election year responsibilities.”

Reached for comment on Wednesday, Wayne said it’s up to the Legislature to release the funding for the candidates. He said in addition to Andre, the Republican candidate for House District 141, Kathy Javner, also was affected. Javner defeated her opponent, Roger Ek, 362-313, for the seat that represents sections of Penobscot and Washington counties. Wayne also said 128 candidates who qualified for supplemental payments, a higher form of funding, were left without that funding.

“The commission is hopeful the Legislature will be providing us with the authority to make those payments,” Wayne said in an interview.

Wayne said the Legislature eliminated their ability to pay out the candidates, but said it was unintentional. He said while it’s a simple fix of changing numbers, he said the commission cannot make payments until the Legislature acts. “It’s up to the Legislature at this point,” he said.

In an email exchange between Andre and Wayne that Andre provided to the Morning Sentinel, Andre tells Wayne he plans to loan his own campaign the money owed to him following “the State of Maine’s inability to meet its contractual obligations.” The loan would be for the initial sum at an interest rate of 7 percent.

“I will remind you that my MCEA opponent in the race, Coleen Madigan, has been issued her initial payment of $5,075 and failure to approve the above agreement would deny my campaign the right to compete in this race,” Andre wrote to Wayne in the email.

In his response, Wayne advises Andre not to lend himself the money, despite acknowledging the “status quo is not acceptable to you.”

The reason Wayne advises against the loan is that because Andre is already a qualified Clean Elections candidate, he can’t accept private donations, even though the state won’t give him his money.

“The campaigns of Maine Clean Election Act candidates are not allowed to accept contributions (even from the candidates), and a loan is a kind of contribution,” Wayne wrote. “If you could please sit tight until the afternoon of Wednesday, July 25th, I expect to have more information by then.”

While Wayne is hopeful that the Legislature will address the issue, no date has been set for it to reconvene. However, he did write that the Commission on July 25 “will be considering the question of whether the Commission has the legal authority to permit candidates to accept traditional campaign contributions.”

In an interview, Andre said loaning himself the funds is not a contribution, as he is entitled to the funds from the MCEA.

“If I loan myself the money in anticipation of receiving those funds, I don’t look at that as a violation,” he said.

Andre said he is prepared to go to court if the Ethics Commission does say he violated the law.

“I won’t be denied the right to run a political campaign,” he said.

He also said the Clean Elections Act is essentially a contract, and the Ethics Commission was expecting him to hold up his end by not accepting funding, but weren’t following their end in releasing the fund.

Andre said he’s not going to “sit tight.” In his response to Wayne, he said he was not notified until several days after the recount that he would not receive the funds. By that point, he already had contracted services he had to pay for. He also wrote that he has an obligation to the people he hopes to serve to run an effective campaign.

“The fact you have already released the initial payment to my opponent in the race places my campaign at a disadvantage and has already interfered with the campaign strategy I have had in place prior to the primary,” Andre wrote.

He then demands his loan be approved.

“Nothing could be more unethical than what you are attempting to do, whereby you have two qualified candidates/ opponents that are both in full compliance with terms of the MCEA and you have chosen to fund only one,” Andre wrote. “This is not a political matter Mr. Wayne, it is a contractual matter and your department is in violation of your contractual obligations to my campaign. I have offered you a way out of this mess by offering to loan my own personal funds to my campaign while your department irons out whatever difficulties have prevented you from fulfilling your obligations. I suggest you take it before any further damage is done to my campaign. This is not about me Mr. Wayne. It is about the people of Waterville and Oakland I seek to represent.”

On Wednesday, Wayne would not say what fallout Andre could face by lending himself the money, but he reiterated that would violate the law. He also said 20 percent of MCEA candidates do get audited.

“It’s not allowed under the way the election law works,” Wayne said of the loan. “I’m hopeful we’re just a week away from a solution here. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Andre also criticized the Ethics Commission — and Wayne — for politicizing the issue. In his letter to Katz, Wayne said Andre could contact House Republican Leader Ken Fredette or Assistant Leader Ellie Espling to urge for a solution, saying that once the party caucus hears the extent of the issues, a fix can be found. But Andre said it is not appropriate for the Maine Ethics Commission to ask him to lobby for the funding.

“That’s not appropriate to involve me in that,” he said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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