The fate of more than $86,000 in campaign cash left unspent during the 2022 election provides a glimpse of Augusta’s seedy underbelly and the supremely petty dysfunction of the House Republican caucus.
The House Republican Fund (HRF), a committee formed in 2002 that has helped Republicans campaign for office for the past two decades, raised a little more than $1M this past election cycle.
Much of that went toward electioneering materials, but on the day after the election, there was still $86,567.22 sitting in the account.
The money sat in the fund untouched until Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) beat out Rep. Josh Morris (R-Turner) and Rep. Laurel Libby (R-Auburn) for the House Minority Leader job.
After the leadership election, former House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham (R-Oxford) transferred the entire balance of the account into her personal leadership PAC, One Maine.
Why wasn’t that money spent helping Republicans win office? Why was it transferred to One Maine? And where did it go from there?
The Maine Wire contacted Dillingham, who up until recently controlled both accounts, for answers.
In a Nov. 30 interview, she told The Maine Wire that the money was not spent during the recent election because of logistical limitations. She said she transferred the money to her leadership account as a favor to the incoming leader, Faulkingham and Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata (R-New Gloucester).
In previous years, out-going leadership would not transfer money between accounts; they would simply sign over control of the HRF bank account, including all remaining funds, to the incoming leaders. Dillingham said she transferred the money to One Maine because the way previous leaders handled the account was too much of a hassle.
At the time of that interview, The Maine Wire reported Dillingham’s seemingly earnest explanation of why she made the unusual transfer from HRF to her committee’s account.
In that interview, Dillingham downplayed the unusual nature of the transfer and said she would return the bulk of the money back to HRF once Faulkingham had taken control of the accounts.
However, campaign finance documents filed with the Maine Ethics Commission on Tuesday show Dillingham returned only $1,560.01 to HRF.
So what did Dillingham do with the cash that Faulkingham and House Republicans should have inherited?
In the weeks that followed the Nov. 30 interview, Dillingham paid massive stipends to former staffers, spent more than $10,000 on gifts for former politicians, gave $4,000 to her daughter, and returned a Nov. 7 donation worth $25,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) — a highly unusual transaction.
According to the filing, there’s $16,215.19 sitting in the One Maine account — money that wasn’t returned to the HRF.
The filing shows that Dillingham used the account as recently as Dec. 13 to pay for internet service on an American Airlines flight.
More than $10,000 was spent on gifts for outgoing state lawmakers, including fancy chairs. More than $1,000 covered a banquet at the Senator Inn. Nearly $2,000 bought pictures for non-returning members from Fine Art America.
The bulk of the money, though, went to former Dillingham staffers.
William Thompson, Dillingham’s former Chief of Staff in the House, received by far the largest stipend of any staffers: $20,000. Anne Fuehrer of Freeport received $6,900. Elizabeth Gillen of Gardiner, and Ellen Wainwright of Canton also took down $4,800. John Bott of Augusta and Tyler Washburn of Orrs Island both got $2,250. Mikeckney Ward, Dillingham’s daughter, received $4,000.
Old Augusta hands said payments to State House staffers who lent leadership a hand on campaigns is something of a tradition, but the large payments to Thompson, Fuehrer, and Dillingham’s daughter raised eyebrows.
The more unusual transaction Dillingham made was the return of $25,000 to RSLC.
The Maine Wire learned about the payments Dillingham had made with HRF money using her leadership committee and contacted her for second interview. At the time, the report detailing the expenditures had not become public, and Dillingham refused to say how she’d spent the money.
In the roughly eight-minute phone call on Dec. 8, Dillingham denied doing anything improper with the money, accused this reporter of lying, and claimed she secretly recorded the previous phone interview.
“You know what, I recorded our conversation. So I’m gonna go back, and I’m gonna get it, I’m gonna get it, and I’m gonna send it to you,” she said.
Dillingham later claimed that she’d lost the secret recording.
“I told you everything that was left after the expenditures were paid is what was going back,” she said. “And I told you everything would be detailed. And it all has to be filed. And that is 100 percent a factual statement and exactly absolutely what happened.”
“Billy Bob and Amy were aware of the expenditures that had to come out. And the stipends that, I would be paying stipends. And whatever the remainder was, I was waiting for the final bill on for termed out members, the gift that we give termed out members, and also for the recount,” she said.
Asked why the $25,000 went back to RSLC, a part of the plan she didn’t mention in the first interview, she said she was making good on a promise she made when the donation came in.
“Because the deposit came, their donation came in on the 7th, and the conversation with them, and I sit on the executive board, was, if you can use it and you need to use it, that’s fine, if not, you know, I agreed yeah, if I don’t use it, I’ll send it back,” she said.
She did not tell Faulkingham and Arata that a huge part of the HRF money would be sent back to the RSLC.
“I didn’t realize that I needed to tell him about an agreement that I had made,” she said.
She said she made that promise to three RSLC staffers. However, when asked to provide the name and contact information for those staffers, she refused.
“Billy Bob can go ahead and- they’ve already asked me for his contact info and for new leadership, so they’ll establish that relationship with them… Next time campaign season comes around I’m sure they’ll work with them just like they did with me in helping Republicans get elected. But in the meantime that’s money they can use elsewhere. They cover all states across the country, not just Maine,” said Dillingham.
Sources familiar with the campaign funding arrangement with Maine Republicans and the national committee said returning money to RSLC, even contributions made late in an election cycle, is a highly unusual move. One source said this was only the second time it had ever happened in the history of RSLC, though that could not be independently verified.
Asked why she transferred money to her personal committee and then sent money to staffers and the RSLC rather than conducting those transactions through the House Republican Fund, Dillingham did not provide an explanation.
In subsequent emails regarding the matter, Dillingham attacked Faulkingham’s character and said she’d been secretly recording her conversations with him and other Republican politicians.
She offered to share those recordings but has not.
While Dillingham insists the transfers and payments were all above board, some Republicans see an ulterior motive.
The accepted theory among Republican lawmakers is that the former House Minority Leader was, like many Maine Republicans, expecting Republicans to take control of the House of Representatives, and she thought her pick for leadership, Rep. Josh Morris (R-Turner), would be in the driver’s seat.
But when Republicans got trounced in the election and Morris subsequently lost the leadership election, Dillingham transferred the money to ensure it did not fall into the hands of the GOP leader she did not support.
As for the return of $25,000 to RSLC, the prevailing theory is that this was done out of spite for Faulkingham.
Morris said in a written statement that he had no knowledge of Dillingham’s plans for the HRF money, and Dillingham denied that the transfer of money into her leadership PAC had anything to do with leadership elections. As for the timing of the transfer, she said she was too busy to transfer the money until the day after the leadership elections.
“I was a little bit busy and it’s when I had things done,” she said.
“There was no ulterior motive.”
And the Stupid Party shall rise again!