Mills Admin Added Signed Letter to $850 Checks to Influence Election After Promising Lawmakers It Wouldn’t

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills spent more than $500,000 to mail physical checks, rather than make $850 instant electronic deposits, so she could also include a signed letter taking credit for the payments days before Election Day.

“You — the people of Maine — are our greatest asset, and I will always fight for you,” Mills wrote in the letter.

The campaign-style mailer on official letterhead also touts what the governor claims are indications Maine’s economy is recovering from the government lockdowns and encourages recipients of the letter to find out whether they qualify for other forms of government assistance.

Republicans in the State Legislature were repeatedly assured that the emergency relief checks would not be used to influence the election, but lawmakers did not get any language into a supplement budget bill preventing the physical checks, along with the letter, from hitting mailboxes the week before Election Day.

“When the $850 came up, which was originally a Republican idea that Mills glommed onto, it came through the Tax Committee, and as Republicans our biggest worry was it was going to be mailed out before the election to buy votes,” said former Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Joel Stetkis (R-Canaan).

“So in the hearing process, with the Tax Committee, and with Appropriations as well, we were assured by the Maine Revenue Services that all the people that were eligible to receive the $850, they would receive it in the same manner that they received the COVID relief money,” said Stetkis.

“We said, if this is an emergency like you’re saying it is, it needs to get out sooner rather than later,” he said. “This is absolutely buying votes.”

“Janet Mills Revenue Service was directed to make the payments electronically,” he said.

“She unnecessarily spent taxpayer money to campaign for herself when the legislature intended those payments to go out electronically,” he said.

Mills communications team did not respond to an email seeking comment.

“We specifically asked them to explore disbursing those checks by electronic means, which they said they would look into,” said Rep. Jack Ducharme (R-Madison). “We thought electronic payments would arrive quicker and would not become a campaign thing.”

“I’m convinced they didn’t do that,” Ducharme said.

“It had to be a deliberative choice to send them out by mail,” he said. “The fact that it came out with a letter accompanying it just confirms what we suspected would happen when we made the request to them to not do it that way.”

Ducharme said Republicans tried to get language into the supplemental budget bill directing Maine Revenue Services to make the payments electronically, but Democrats on the Appropriations Committee blocked the move.

“They didn’t want to be tied into a particular methodology of disbursing the payments,” he said.

A source who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the Mills administration said the cost of each of the more than 800,000 checks would have exceeded $500,000.

The Maine Wire has submitted a Freedom of Access Act request to the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services seeking to obtain communications regarding the decision as well as financial records regarding the cost.

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