Roughly two weeks ago, just before the start of the spring semester at UMaine, I was contacted by a man named Quinn Jones. Jones was looking for UMaine students to circulate petitions for the proposed Casino referendum in York County, promising $10 a signature. As a non-resident of Maine, Jones needed registered Maine voters to obtain these signatures.
Before I was to meet with Jones, I asked him if I would be receiving the petitions and a W-9 form, which is standard procedure for petition circulators in the state of Maine. Jones promised me that filling out one of these forms wasn’t necessary, and that I should think of the transaction as an exchange of signatures for cash.
Knowing the law, I denied participating in the operation that Jones was playing part in. Jones immediately called me up and told me that if I wanted to get out of working in state politics, I needed to accept that this is the way politics are done.
Here is the transcript of a text conversation I had with Jones.
Me: No problem. What will I be getting today? Petition sheets and what else? Do you have W2’s?
Jones: No need for any W2’s, just petition sheets. Only need you collecting signatures. All of the logistical paperwork will be handled in Portland after we’ve collected everything here.
Me: I’m not going to be collecting signatures without a W2.
Jones: We’re not employing you; you’re being brought in as an independent contractor. Look at it as trading signatures for money.
Me: I don’t know, man. I’ve done this before. If I’m an independent contractor, that changes how I file taxes on this money, and I have no idea what that requires for insurance. I don’t think this is for me.
Jones: Hey buddy, what’s going on?
Me: I just got back [to school] and I’m unpacking. To be honest I don’t think I’m interested anymore. I’m not working off the books. Sorry man.
Jones: Listen, if I give you a prepaid gift card, will you at least get your [fraternity] chapter signed up? Help me here a bit, I’ll just give you the card when you give me the signatures.
In the text conversation, I wrongly used the term W-2 instead of W-9, but I’m not sure if Jones even understands the difference. Normally, a petition circulator would be required to fill out a W-9 form, but Jones made it very clear that filling out any type of form wasn’t required, and that the transaction taking place was money for signatures.
For those unaware, you cannot pay petition circulators under the table in the state of Maine. In later phone conversations with Jones, he conceded to me that he understood why he wasn’t requiring his petition circulators to sign W-9’s, and finally backed off as I further explained my skepticism.
So quietly I waited, knowing that this fiasco would soon come to light. And sure enough, it did.
The Sun Journal first broke the story about petition circulators demanding payment, along with additional controversy about whether the signatures were being obtained with a registered Maine voter present. It is the law in Maine that a registered Maine voter witnesses every signature that is obtained for a referendum.
Harness Racing Jobs Fairness, the organization pushing the Casino referendum, hired a group called Olympic Consulting, which is owned and operated by Stavros Mendros of Lewiston, one of our state’s foremost dirty trick practitioners. Mendros’ organization was paid $111,935, and $67,000 of that total was to be paid to petition circulators.
Based on what Jones was promising his petition circulators, Mendros’ should be paying out to the tune of $620,000, not $67,000. I am unsure if Jones is directly connected to Mendros or another lobbying/consulting firm tasked with obtaining signatures for this referendum, but I did know that his $10 per signature offer was way too good to be true.
According to the Sun Journal’s report, the petition effort is being funded by Lisa Scott, who is a Miami developer and the sister of Shawn Scott, the casino developer who purchased Bangor Raceway. Shawn Scott financed the campaign to allow slots there in 2003 and then sold his operation for $51 million, which is now the Hollywood Casino in Bangor.
Luckily, the secretary of state’s office is not turning a blind eye to these complaints. Kristen Schulze Muszynski, Communications Director for the Secretary of State’s Office, told the Sun Journal that their office is taking these accusations “very seriously” and will further investigate as signatures continue to be verified.
From this incident, there are two lessons to be learned. The first is to never agree to become a petition circulator for anyone without signing a W-9, as it’s the only way to ensure that you’ll be paid for your work. The second is that big-money, outside interest groups rarely come to Maine unless there is money to be made – for themselves.