AUGUSTA, Maine — A former candidate for the House of Representatives faces up to $400 in fines for his alleged failure to account for $1,600 he withdrew as cash from a publicly funded campaign account.
The case is scheduled for a hearing Thursday by the Maine Ethics Commission.
Byron Watson, a Republican from Brunswick, was unsuccessful in the 2014 election for the Brunswick-area House District 51 seat, which he lost to Democrat Joyce McCreight of Harpswell. HIs campaign was publicly financed through the Maine Clean Election Act and, according to preliminary findings by the Ethics Commission staff, Watson did not keep adequate records of where the money went.
Watson denies that any of the campaign cash was spent for personal purposes and has told the commission that he destroyed many of his campaign records because he thought they were no longer needed.
According to a summary of the case written by Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne, Watson opened a campaign account and deposited two payments from the Maine Clean Election Fund, but never made any expenditures from that account.
Rather, he made 13 transfers from that account totalling $3,022 to his personal account and withdrew another $2,183 in cash from his campaign account in eight transactions. Five of those eight withdrawals, totalling $1,647, did not correspond to any reported campaign expenditures, according to Wayne.
“During the audit, Mr. Watson could not produce many of the documents that he was legally required to keep,” wrote Wayne.
In a Jan. 31 letter to the commission, Watson claimed that he had shredded some campaign documents. He also stated that he transferred money to his personal account because the campaign account was a savings account and therefore difficult to draw from.
Publicly funded legislative candidates are required to keep certain financial records for three years and commingling of campaign funds with personal funds is illegal.
Watson, who could not be reached for comment by the BDN on Wednesday, requested leniency in an April 17 letter to the commission, asking that his fines be reduced from the recommended $400 to $100.
“From the very start, I was under false impressions that I would have help in the venture and ended up running the entire campaign alone and made a few mistakes,” wrote Watson. “I always acted in good faith and didn’t even know that I was making any mistakes.”
The Ethics Commission has a history of regularly reducing fines, though another option could be for the commission to call for a wider investigation, according to documents provided by Wayne.
In a separate case, commission staff is recommending a $100 fine against Andrew Reddy, who was a Green Independent candidate in the 2014 House District 33 election, for commingling MCEA funds with personal funds. In that case, all of the public funding has been accounted for.
Thursday’s meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the commission’s office at 45 Memorial Circle in Augusta.