AUGUSTA, Maine — Criminal charges against a campaign treasurer accused of making an illegal expenditure last year on behalf of the Republican House candidate who ousted longtime Democratic lawmaker John Martin have been dropped by the attorney general’s office in the wake of a Maine Ethics Commission decision Monday not to penalize him.

L. Philip Soucy of Fort Kent originally was charged with making a false statement under Maine election laws for his role in the House District 1 election last year in which Republican Allen Michael Nadeau defeated Martin, who had served in the Legislature — with one interruption — since 1964. Martin, long a target of Maine Republicans, was the only incumbent Democratic legislator to lose a re-election bid in 2012, when Democrats regained majorities in the House and Senate after relinquishing control of both chambers to Republicans in 2010.

Soucy, who was Nadeau’s campaign treasurer and also treasurer for a group called Citizens for Effective Government, was accused of using his credit card to pay $1,475 for a mailer in support of Nadeau just days before the election. He made that payment under the auspices of the organization, not the Nadeau campaign.

Testimony before the Ethics Commission on Monday found that Nadeau received $2,000 in cash from his business on the same day and that Soucy then deposited $1,500 in cash into his own account.

The ethics commission voted 5-0 in finding that Soucy was not a “campaign agent” for Nadeau under the law and therefore could make expenditures outside the constraints of the state’s Clean Election system, which bars candidates from making expenditures with money other than what is provided to them by the publicly funded system.

Monday’s decision effectively reversed a November 2012 ruling by the commission that Nadeau and Soucy had made an illegal coordinated expenditure. The commission’s staff launched an investigation into the matter, which in January was expanded at the request of the commission. Monday’s hearing concluded the investigation.

The decision rankled Democrats, who questioned how a campaign treasurer isn’t an agent of that campaign, and it also had ramifications in the courts. According to a Kennebec County Superior Court document dated July 30 and signed by Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, the criminal charge against Soucy has been dropped.

“The Maine Ethics Commission, which administers and enforces the Maine Clean Election Act, concluded after an administrative hearing that the defendant was not an agent of the campaign of Allen Michael Nadeau and did not make a false statement,” reads the document.

Soucy, who could not be reached Thursday for comment, signed an affidavit that he filed with the Ethics Commission last November attesting that he made the expenditure independently and without communicating with Nadeau about it.

The Maine Democratic Party objected strenuously to the commission’s decision, saying it dealt a “serious blow” to Maine election laws.

“The Maine Ethics Commission proved that it no longer has the teeth to hold candidates accountable,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant in a written statement earlier this week. “Once again, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember’ was considered an adequate defense for clearly violating Maine’s election laws. This decision makes a mockery of our system. Until we have a body that truly holds candidates accountable for breaking the rules, there is no reason to follow them.”

Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said Thursday that the party will urge lawmakers to explore changes to the law.

“There could have been a very different outcome if the courts had handled this case from the beginning,” said Reinholt. “The Legislature needs to revisit the law because clearly when people break these election laws it should result in consequences. Clearly they could at least define what a registered agent is.”

In a separate but related matter, James Majka, a campaign volunteer for Nadeau, was found guilty by the Ethics Commission of purchasing an advertisement on Nadeau’s behalf in a weekly newspaper. The purchase fell outside the bounds of the Clean Election system.

“After he qualifies for public funding, a Maine Clean Election candidate is not supposed to be accepting any cash or in-kind contributions,” said Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the commission. “Because Mr. Majka purchased the ad as an agent for the candidate, Rep. Nadeau received a contribution in violation of the Maine Clean Election Act.”

The commission, which is composed of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent, voted 4-1 against Majka. The commission is scheduled to reconvene on Aug. 23 for further consideration of the matter, including possibly levying fines.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.