By David Sorenson
Recently discovered Democratic campaign literature suggests that Democrats are trying to tout government reform as a major achievement and priority of theirs. It was their appointees, however, who caused the waste, fraud and abuse cited below, and it was their lack of oversight that allowed it to continue for so many years.
The Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) is a government oversight office that was created by Republicans. Years ago, Democrats tried to close it down in order to cut costs in the face of budget-busting welfare expansions, but the then-minority Republicans fought successfully for its survival.
For years the Democrats fought efforts to clean up waste, fraud and abuse, their new talking points won’t pass the straight face test with voters—as long as the voters have all the information.
It is up to us to prevent Maine from devolving into a Massachusetts- or Chicago-style bastion of corruption and waste.
LD 1538 – Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA) Reform
After increased oversight from OPEGA, the Attorney General’s office investigated the MTA and identified $2.3 million spent inappropriately. The executive director, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Paul Violette, was convicted of stealing public money and sent to prison. Examples of the MTA’s spending under Democratic oversight include:
$257,780 over four years on employee recognition banquets, cookouts and service awards;
$297,238 on donations and sponsorships of various organizations, some being non-charitable groups with no ties to MTA’s mission; and
Perhaps most notoriously, Violette spent $157,000 on gift certificates from hotels and restaurants, expensing them as work-related travel costs and instead pocketing them for personal use.
The Republican Legislature enacted LD 1538 to require more oversight and accountability at the MTA. Testimony at the bill’s hearings described a rogue agency where managers found clever ways of hiding exorbitant MTA-funded trips to destinations such as Tuscany, Italy. The new law:
Shortened the length of terms for MTA board members;
Improved auditing procedures;
Allowed for closer legislative scrutiny of MTA budgets; and
Required that all purchases be subject to competitive bidding.
LD 1831 – Forfeiture of State Pensions by Criminal Public Servants
This bill was inspired by Paul Violette, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader, lobbyist and head of the Maine Turnpike Authority who was convicted and sent to prison for stealing public money. Existing law allowed for Violette to keep his generous public pension despite having defrauded the taxpayers of Maine for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This bill gives courts discretion to order the forfeiture of retirement benefits of a member of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System who commits a crime in connection with the member’s public office or public employment or a crime that the member’s position placed the member in a position to commit.
LD 1778 – Reform of Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA)
A review by OPEGA revealed that MSHA made “unnecessary” expenditures that were “not typical of a State agency.”
The median single family home in Maine sells for $159,000, while a so-called low income Waterville project cost taxpayers $292,000 per 1,100-square-foot unit.
Dale McCormick squandered tens of thousands of dollars on meetings at luxury destinations, massages, magicians, karate lessons, a green energy scheme and other frivolous expenditures.
The former executive director also spent taxpayers’ money on activist political organizations that have nothing to do with housing policy.
In light of these findings, Republicans led the way to a reform of MSHA to make the executive director accountable to the board. It became clear that the position of executive director was too powerful and unaccountable to the commissioners of the quasi-governmental agency, and that more oversight authority needed to be granted to the board in order to prevent the irresponsible spending on entertainment and political causes that had plagued the agency during McCormick’s tenure.
The bill vests the powers of MSHA in the board of commissioners, instead of in the executive director, and provides that the commission may delegate powers to the director where they deem appropriate. It eliminates set terms of service for the director, provides that the commissioners may vote to terminate the director, and establishes staggered terms for the commissioners so that future governors may not reappoint the entire board along political lines.
Maine Green Energy Alliance (MGEA)
MGEA, whose mission it was to use community organizing and education to expand green energy, was criticized for its close ties to the Democratic Party. The Legislature and OPEGA investigated the organization and found that it had paid Democratic legislators and candidates to perform home energy audits. Also, after receiving $1.25 million in the first year of a $3 million grant, MGEA had only completed five percent of the audits required by the grant. As a result, the program was terminated and funds were returned to the Efficiency Maine Trust.
LD 1806 – Transparency in Government
This bill makes the following changes to the laws governing financial disclosure by legislators and certain executive employees, in a much-needed attempt to bring transparency and accountability to Maine government:
Requires legislators to disclose incomes earned and positions held by immediate family members;
Requires legislators to disclose titles held and earnings over their last few years in office;
Requires legislators and certain employees to identify each agency to which an associated organization has sold goods or services; and
Requires disclosure if the legislator or employee holds certain positions with a political action committee or ballot question committee.
David Sorensen is communications director for the Maine Republican Party.