Maine Ethics Commission Clears Republican Senator Nichi Farnham Of Any Wrongdoing
The Maine Ethics Commission unanimously ruled that State Senator Nichi Farnham did not play a role in a political action committee’s decision to buy $72,919 worth of attack ads against her opponent, Democrat Geoffrey Gratwick. Democrats had filed the complaint, claiming she violated Maine’s campaign finance laws.Farnham was listed as a primary decision maker and fundraiser on the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC that paid for the advertising. If Farnham, a Maine clean elections candidate, had known about and been part of the PAC’s decision to buy advertising in her own senate race, it would have been a violation of Maine campaign finance law.Farnham denies ever being part of any decision making within the PAC, and says her name was only added as a temporary “placeholder” after the previous decision makers, State Senators Deb Plowman and Jon Courtney, decided to run for U.S. Congress and Senate seats, and had to be removed. Plowman ran for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Olympia Snowe before losing in the Republican Primary. Courtney is challenging Democratic Chellie Pingree in Maine’s First Congressional District.Farnham was asked to temporarily fill in until a permanent replacement could be found, but says she made it clear to those in the PAC that she wanted no part of the day-to-day decision making. Farnham says her name should have been removed months ago and she was unaware her name was still associated with the PAC. “It would have been helpful had my name been removed very, very early on.”Democrats presented a letter written by a member of the PAC in June that still had Farnham listed as a decision maker. It was that letter that led to the investigation. Farnham said she wasn’t aware her name was still on the PAC’s mailings until it was brought to her attention by a reporter in October. “At the time the correspondence in June came by I was in summer mode. I was a mom, I was going to baseball, and as a candidate I was starting to format how I was going to get to as many doors as I could in Bangor and Hermon,” Farnham said. Democrats called it suspicious that Farnham’s campaign against Gratwick, considered one of the tightest races in Maine, was one of only three the PAC contributed to and it got the most money. “If candidate Farnham’s race is the top priority for the PAC, it defies logic to believe that at some point in the seven months that she was a principal that she didn’t know or hear about the PAC’s plan,” Kate Knox of the Maine Democratic Party told the commission.Farnham fiercely denied the allegations. “They just had no substance to them. There really was no information to support my involvement at all.”Farnham and others in the PAC say she never had anything to do with actual decision making and called the situation a clerical error. Farnham’s attorney called the allegations a targeted attack on her character.Citing a lack of evidence that Farnham had any knowledge her name was still associated with the PAC, or had anything to do with the attack ads against Gratwick, the commission ruled unanimously in Farnham’s favor. “If the proof is truly in the pudding, there is no pudding here,” Walter McKee, Chairman of the Ethics Committee said.Despite the commission exonerating her of any wrongdoing, Farnham hopes the allegation won’t affect voters when they go to the polls. “It was just that, an allegation, and a complaint made and it stayed just that the whole time,” Farnham said. “So it was unfortunate that people chose to prejudge and display that judgement in TV, allowing you guys to report on it in radio. It’s been in paper mailings, it’s been in print, so it’s unfortunate it received the coverage it did when it was just that, an allegation.”Meanwhile, the PAC that made the clerical error was fined $250, the maximum fine that could be imposed.