Nearly two weeks after nixing a House Ethics Committee review of Rep. Ryan Tipping’s ongoing ethics scandal, Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon has amped up her defense of the Orono lawmaker, threatening to leak information regarding Republican ethics violations to the press, according to numerous sources in the House Republican Caucus.
On Tuesday, the Republican caucus convened and was told by party leadership that Gideon had informed them that Democrats would “dig up and reveal ethics violations” on Republicans if they didn’t drop the Tipping scandal. Tipping has been in hot water over the last month for failing to accurately disclose $9,000 in payments he received from the Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools PAC for supporting Question 2 last November.
Tipping accepted these funds as a Clean Elections candidate while serving on the Education Committee, and was chosen by Democratic leadership to co-chair the Taxation Committee in the 128th Legislature – the committee charged with enforcing the changes to Maine’s tax code that come as a result of Question 2’s passage.
While Republicans have not backed away from allegations against Tipping, members of the House Republican Caucus fear that their party is being “taken hostage” by House Democrats, who are eagerly trying to move Tipping’s ethics scandal into the shadows.
“We should not be playing politics with ethics issues,” one source said. “If Republican ethics violations exist, they should be out in the open where everyone can see them.”
Republicans are concerned of the precedent Tipping’s case sets for the future of Maine politics, fearing his conduct illustrates that Maine’s government is for sale and easily exploitable by special interest groups.
“If Democrats are going to stop us from reviewing this in the House, the ethics commission needs to look at it,” one source said.
Gideon and other House Democrats have defended Tipping since the Maine GOP unearthed the potential conflict of interest, offering that Tipping took the necessary precaution of consulting with the Maine Ethics Commission prior to accepting payment. However, the Executive Director of the Maine Ethics Commission, Jonathan Wayne, submitted a letter to Tipping last week outlining a key omission in Tipping’s original inquiry.
When Tipping reached out to the ethics commission in January, he never mentioned he was serving as a co-chair of the Taxation Committee in the 128th Legislature. Additionally, Wayne made clear in his letter that the ethics commission does not interpret the law or grant permission for legislators to engage in any kind of conduct. Instead, it is the job of the ethics commission, according to Wayne, to educate legislators of existing ethics law and offer them guidance.
Tipping continues to co-chair the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation and it remains unclear if the House Ethics Committee or Maine Ethics Commission will further investigate Tipping’s case for ethics violations.