Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during an American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy / The Deseret News via AP

AUGUSTA, Maine – A divided Maine campaign finance watchdog voted Monday to escalate an investigation into a national conservative group by allowing staff to ask a court for sensitive documents on a software program.

The five-member Maine Ethics Commission voted 3-2 on Monday to allow staff to subpoena the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, to require them to turn over documents that staff could use to determine if it violated state contribution laws by allowing lawmakers to use software that contains voter information and is used to track constituent interactions.

In a rare divided vote of the commission, Bill Lee and Sarah LeClair, both Democrats, voted to allow subpoenas, as did independent Dennis Marble. Former Attorney General William Schneider and former state Sen. David Hastings, both Republicans, opposed the idea.

ALEC has refused to participate in Maine’s investigation, saying it believes it is illegitimate. The Monday move is expected to lead to months of litigation over the subpoenas, Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the commission, told the panel in a memo.

The probe came after the liberal Center for Media and Democracy group brought similar complaints in other states. Maine has responded far more aggressively than the other states. Commission staff have noted six others dismissed complaints due to concerns about the legality, facts and scope of the requests.

At the heart of the probe is whether ALEC violated state campaign finance laws that limit contributions to legislative candidates at $400 by providing the software to two Maine Republican lawmakers, Sen. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle and Rep. Matt Harrington of Sanford.