State ethics commission fines group behind 'right to repair' referendum

Nov. 29—AUGUSTA — The Maine ethics commission voted Wednesday to impose a $35,000 fine on a political action committee behind the 'right to repair' initiative approved by voters this month.

The group, the Maine Automotive Right to Repair Committee, missed notification and reporting deadlines after receiving large campaign donations.

All five members of the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices voted in favor of the fine, which was reduced from the $55,000 recommended by commission staff. The maximum fine under state law was $240,000.

Adrianne Fouts, an attorney for the Right to Repair Committee, asked the commission to reduce the fine to $5,000 for each of five donations for which the committee sent late notices to donors and the commission and $10,000 for a sixth donation.

"This is a situation of mistake," Fouts said. "There was no intent to hide any information or any benefit to doing so."

She said it was the campaign treasurer's first time working on an initiative in Maine and she was unfamiliar with the campaign finance requirements. "She did endeavor to become familiar with the requirements, but ultimately did make some mistakes," Fouts said.

State law requires ballot question committees such as the Right to Repair Committee to send notices to donors who contribute more than $100,000. The committees also must send notices of the large donations to the commission.

The Right to Repair Committee raised close to $5 million in its campaign. The six major donations for which late notices were sent included $500,000 from AutoZone, $500,000 from Advance Auto Parts, $250,000 from Clarios, $150,000 from Dorman Products, $500,000 from Genuine Parts Company and $500,000 from O'Reilly Auto Parts.

The commission on Wednesday also approved fines in a related case for one of the donors to the right to repair committee and for Maine Energy Progress, a PAC formed to oppose the takeover of Maine's major utilities by a public power company.

Commission staff said Maine Energy Progress filed a late notice to major donor Versant and the commission after a $250,000 donation. The commission approved the staff recommendation of a $3,000 fine, noting that Maine Energy Progress had self-reported the violation quickly and prior to this month's election.

A fine of $5,000 was approved for Dorman Products for late filing of a major contributor report with the commission. Although Dorman also received late notice from the right to repair committee, commission staff noted in a memo on the case that Dorman's notice to the commission was subsequently filed almost two months later "with little reasonable explanation as to why such a late filing occurred."

The commission also considered a late notice fine for another right to repair committee contributor, Genuine Parts Company, but postponed action on that case because a representative of the company was not able to be at Wednesday's meeting.