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Written by Lorie Costigan—Statehouse News Service   
Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 10:58 am

AUGUSTA — Maine Leads, a conservative nonprofit organization supporting two tax initiatives on the Nov. 3 ballot, has reported the identity of three of its original funders.

The group testified before the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices in September following allegations it had acted as a political action committee (PAC) in 2007 and 2008 when donating to PACs associated with Question 2, An Act to Reduce Automotive Excise Tax, and Question 4, An Act to Provide Tax Relief.

The commission ruled Oct. 1 that Maine Leads did not act as a PAC, but had acted as a ballot question committee, as defined by Maine election law, and was thus required to disclose the names of all donors who gave in excess of $100. Commissioners gave Maine Leads two weeks to report the sources of initial funding.

The National Taxpayers Union of Alexandria, Va., gave $155,000 to Maine Leads on Oct. 31, 2007. The National Tax Limitation Committee of Roseville, Calif., gave $20,313, and the Sam Adams Alliance of Chicago, Ill., gave $27,423 on March 13, 2008.

Dan Billings represented Maine Leads during the commission’s investigation and subsequent hearing. He argued the Maine statute governing political contributions is constitutionally vague, a position he continues to hold following the commission’s findings.

Billings argues Maine statute has not defined a ballot initiative committee in a manner that can be interpreted by basic meaning. He believes the ordinary meaning of the statute suggest a ballot committee must have a question in place in order to register, a point the commission rejected in its Oct. 1 ruling.

“There is also an argument that Section 1056-B as written and/or applied is unconstitutional,” Billings wrote in response to questions following Maine Leads’ disclosure. “The statute came about as a result of the U.S. District Court's decision in Volle v. Webster 69 F.Supp.2d 171 (1999), which held that requiring everyone who spent money on referendum campaigns to register as a PAC was unconstitutional. The argument is that the statute, as written and applied, now creates the same constitutional concerns as raised in that case.”

Billings believes Maine Leads did not act as a ballot question committee because questions were not in place until after sufficient petition signatures were raised to place both questions before voters as citizen initiatives. After sufficient signatures were collected in 2008 and the petitions were submitted to the secretary of state, Maine Leads registered as a ballot question committee.

Maine Leads has yet to determine if it will pursue an appeal of the commission’s ruling and is waiting to learn the monetary penalty the commission will impose during its meeting Nov. 19.

“My client would like to avoid litigation but would consider it if unduly punitive penalties are imposed,” Billings wrote.

For more political news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.