Penobscot County residents are calling for the resignation of Andre Cushing, the chairperson of the Penobscot County commissioners, after he failed to recuse himself from voting in favor of giving a business associate a nearly $50,000 contract to lobby on behalf of the county.
At Tuesday’s county commissioners’ meeting, four residents from Penobscot County called on Cushing to resign or expressed concern about him not publicly disclosing his business connection.
Melissa Berky of Bangor called Cushing’s actions a “breach of trust.”
“We expect our elected leaders to put our collective good above self interest. So I’m calling on Commissioner Cushing to step down to resign,” she said. “For one thing, it’s not his first lapse in ethical judgment. For another, it has been a breach of trust with the public. And there is no assurance that it won’t happen again in the future.”
Cushing, who has been a county commissioner for almost five years, did not recuse himself from a vote in January for the county to enter into a contract with Patriot Consulting, which is owned and operated by Zachary Lingley, a Republican lobbyist and political operative.
State records show that Cushing has had a business relationship with Lingley, putting him in potential conflict with Penobscot County policy and state law requiring public employees to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
After the Bangor Daily News wrote about Cushing’s connection, Patriot Consulting sent a letter to the commissioners April 7 seeking to withdraw from its agreement with the county, citing “negative press.”
The commissioners formally terminated the agreement Tuesday.
Cushing worked with Lingley in 2022 as a lobbyist associate, according to records from the Maine Ethics Commission. He specifically worked on advocacy efforts for kratom, an herbal substance that can produce opioid- and stimulant-like effects. It is legal in Maine.
A lob byist associate is a partner or employee of a lobbyist who spends more than eight hours a month lobbying on behalf of a client. For Cushing that client was the American Kratom Association. He was also a commissioner at the time.
This is not the first time Cushing has faced ethics questions. In 2017, when Cushing was the former assistant Senate majority leader, the political committees he ran were fined $9,000 for violating the state’s campaign finance laws.
Doug Poulin, a Hampden resident who spoke at the meeting, said he is concerned about the situation and what it means for the county.
“Do we value transparency, or is it OK to wait until somebody is exposed and then minimize the issue and just go on?” Poulin asked the commissioners.
When the BDN asked Cushing why he did not recuse himself from the vote to hire Lingley, he defended his actions, saying there would not have been enough commissioners left to vote on the contract without his vote.
Cushing did not respond to calls for his resignation at the meeting Tuesday.
This is the second time Penobscot County has hired Lingley. It also hired him last year to lobby for the same county initiatives, Cushing has said in the past.
Lingley has ties to the other Penobscot County commissioner who voted in favor of his contract.
During the 2022 commissioners election, Patriot Consulting and Star City PAC, for which Lingley is listed as treasurer, donated to David Marshall’s successful bid to unseat former Commissioner Laura Sanborn. Marshall has not commented on his connection to Lingley.
In that same election, Cushing was the top individual donor to Marshall’s campaign.
That revelation was of equal concern to Poulin.
“If it were true that a sitting commissioner was the largest [individual] contributor to the campaign for somebody running for a spot on the commission, and that candidate was elected, and since there are only three commissioners, how would that influence the voting?” he said.