Maine Governor Janet Mills still has not paid the full cost of her inauguration ceremony, according to the Associated Press. The governor’s transition staff was billed almost $200,000 for the inauguration ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center, a whopping $63,000 higher than expected. Governor Mills, known for needlessly expanding Maine’s budget, has seemingly been unable to manage her own inauguration budget since taking office earlier this year.
The Mills transition team, surprised by the high sticker price, was unable to cover the costs with the funds raised for her inaugural committee. The inaugural and transition committee raised more than $400,000 in donations, almost entirely from state lobbyists, but did not budget appropriately and was short of funds to pay the cost of her inauguration. To cover these higher-than-expected inauguration costs, the Mills transition team has continued to raise money from lobbyists and special interests past the date of the inauguration.
Maine law prohibits donations from state lobbyists during the legislative session, and Governor Mills only raised $2,545 for the committee from February to June. Nevertheless, in the time since the legislature adjourned roughly one month ago, Mills’ committee has raised $10,500 and has another $40,000 in pledged donations. Determined to close the deficit, Mills’ committee is looking for loopholes in state law to raise thousands from special interests to cover the remaining costs.
However, these donations seem to directly violate a 2015 state law that prohibits donations to fundraise for an inauguration after January 31st. While this same law also needlessly enshrines taxpayer-funded elections into state law, this specific provision helps support transparency during governmental transitions.
Maine ethics commissioners are now supposedly looking at these alleged violations and will decide whether to apply a civil penalty up to $10,000 if its determined that Mills’ committee broke the law. This appears unlikely, however, considering the executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, Jonathan Wayne, has publicly stated that it is “practical” to allow Mills to continue raising funds after January 31.
However, Governor Mills’ inauguration debt and her attempts to eliminate it with donations from lobbyists after the statutory deadline undermines the integrity of state government and leaves her open to possible extortion from corrupt actors who want to influence policymaking in Augusta.
Inaugural committee attorney Michael Carey has defended these donations after the deadline to the ethics commission, saying the monetary shortfall “resulted from the convergence of the short time remaining and fundraisers’ personal and schedule issues.” Carey believes the state law is imprudent and argues that it should be updated.
Instead of owning up to her violations of Maine law, the governor and her committee are making excuses and blaming the law itself. Governor Mills should take ownership of these violations and apologize to Maine citizens.
Maine’s ethics regulators should also send the message that nobody, including the governor, is above the law. While the fine will not be a terribly significant financial penalty, disciplinary action from Maine’s ethics authorities will demonstrate to all Mainers that, regardless of status and power, politicians will be held accountable.