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When Legislators Ignore Conflicts Of Interest: A New Kind Of Double Dipping

Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012

A loophole in the Maine state law has allowed public officials to benefit from millions of dollars going to private organizations where they have an interest.

According to a study by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, nearly $235 million in state funds have been paid to various private and non-profit organizations either run by “legislative leaders or the spouses of high-level state employees.”

While some of the payments date back to 2003, there are significant examples of current conflicts of interest. For example, Senator Joseph Brannigan, chair of the Appropriations and Human Services Committes, was part of a deal to direct $98 million to Shalom House, where Brannigan was executive director. Brenda Harvey, stepped down from her position as a Human Services Commissioner in 2011, but not before $15.4 million was directed to Mobius, Inc., where her husband was executive director.

 Well-connected officeholders were not the only ones to benefit. Not included in the $235 million is some $60 million paid to employers of other legislators, to organizations ranging from group homes and daycare centers to a community counseling center.

“Each of the legislators or state officials say they did nothing wrong, and said their statehouse colleagues knew of the overlapping private and public roles, thereby, they claim, creating a ‘check’ on any possible conflicts of interest.”

But conflicts of interest are not the only issue. Due to another loophole in the state law, “lawmakers and executive branch officials who leave office between one year’s disclosure filing deadline and the next year’s deadline don’t have to file a disclosure for their last year (or portion of a year) in state government This leads to a complete lack of disclosure, especially when an executive leaves state employment.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the state’s Commission on Governmental Ethics summarized the “double dipping” in simple terms: “I think it’s good for the public to know if public officials or members of their immediate family have significant contracts with the state.”

Tags: conflicts of interests, Maine

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