AUGUSTA, Maine — Political committees run by Assistant Maine Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing were fined $9,000 by the state’s ethics watchdog Wednesday for filing several late finance reports after an investigation prompted by Cushing’s sister, who is suing him.

It’s a heavy penalty by the Maine Ethics Commission’s standard, but it was lower than staff recommended after an investigation into the influential Republican from Newport, who drew attention for commingling business funds with his political action committee, Respect Maine.

But Maine law barely regulates political action committees, so Cushing got the fine after the commission ruled that 11 finance reports from 2014 to 2016 for his PAC and a campaign committee were filed late.

The probe found that Cushing didn’t initially report transfers between a business and his PAC and that credit card purchases for political and personal purposes were reimbursed by the PAC and went unreported. But the commission found that Cushing got no political benefit from them.

That family business, New England Forest Products, also is involved in the civil lawsuit against Cushing last October by his sister, Laura Cushing McIntyre of Hermon. She alleged misuse of more than $1 million in family funds and filed the ethics complaint after that.

Commissioners were critical of Cushing’s practices. Democrat Meri Lowry of Portland said the violations constituted “an overarching pattern of failure to disclose over a long period of time.” Richard Nass, a former Republican state senator from Acton who has worked on campaigns with Cushing, called his bookkeeping “appalling.”

But commissioners approved a fine lower than their staff’s minimum recommendation of $11,000 for the violations, settling on $7,500 for the PAC violations and another $1,500 for the campaign violation. The maximum penalty allowed under Maine law was more than $100,000, but Cushing’s lawyer, Josh Tardy, suggested a $5,000 penalty.

After the decision, Cushing said the commission “assessed what they felt was a significant message to me and to others who operate PACs that there are compliance requirements” and he respected that, though there’s “room for discussion” around campaign finance laws.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...