Ethics watchdog to probe possibly illegal $150K donation to Maine Democrats

Jul. 30—AUGUSTA, Maine — The state campaign finance regulator voted Friday to investigate a $150,000 contribution to the Maine Democratic Party in 2018 that came from a firm with no clear presence or sources of revenue.

Alpine Initiatives, LLC, a Portland-based company, was founded in October 2018 and made a $150,000 contribution to the Maine Democratic Party within a few days of its launch. That contribution was reported at the time in the party's campaign finance filings.

Businesses are allowed to donate unlimited sums to political parties in Maine. But Alpine Initiatives has no clear web presence or sources of revenue, staff from the Maine Ethics Commission found. If the company was created solely to make a political contribution, then it could be required to register as a political action committee. Commission members voted unanimously Friday to investigate the matter further.

People linked to Alpine Initiatives did not respond to inquiries from ethics commission staff, Executive Director Jonathan Wayne told commission members. The company shut down in 2019, according to state records. Ian Grady, a former communications director for EqualityMaine whose name is included in the business's registration paperwork on file with the Maine secretary of state's office, said the group was reviewing the commission's material and would have a response in the coming weeks.

Funneling contributions through an LLC is one way that large political donors sometimes attempt to mask their identities. If Alpine Initiatives was required to register as a PAC, it would have to report its sources of funding, thereby revealing the identities of its donors.

It would not be the first alleged straw donor scheme in Maine politics in recent years. At the federal level, an FBI warrant application earlier this year revealed that the agency was investigating whether a Hawaii businessman set up a shell company to donate $150,000 to a PAC supporting U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' reelection.

The FBI has not alleged any wrongdoing by Collins in that case. Likewise, the Maine Ethics Commission does not suggest wrongdoing by the Maine Democratic Party with respect to the Alpine Initiatives contribution at this time.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.