From A.J. Higgins' story on yesterday's Ethics Commission hearing:
Lenardson maintains that Maine Leads is an advocacy group for citizen empowerment to fight for lower taxes. He says he was really trying to model other Democratic-leaning groups such as the Maine People's Alliance which have been successful in Maine.
"My job was, or my mission was, to build capacity," Lenardson said. "It was to be a place where other center-right groups could come together and to work on ideas and advance an agenda, whether it's day-to-day in the Legislature, whether it's working with local mayors in Waterville or Biddeford. It really is just strictly out of envy of how the left has organized."
Sun Journal Opinion Editor Tony Ronzio says Maine Leads has acted as a PAC in pursuing ballot initiatives and should have to disclose its donors and expenditures to the state ethics commission.
This issue first arose in May, when the commission voted to investigate the organization after a complaint was filed by by Deborah Hutton, a former Democratic legislator. The commission will meet on Tuesday to debate the matter and hear testimony from Maine Leads Executive Director (and Floridian) Roy Lenardson. The agenda and documents for that meeting can be viewed here.
Gerald Weinand has more on the issue at Dirigo Blue.
Floridian Roy Lenardson discusses his organization's new referendum proposals on WLOB:
Websites in favor of the conservative referendums that will be on the ballot in November are now online (even for the one that was thrown out for a lack of valid signatures).
The content of the pro-TABOR site isn't yet accessible, but the excise tax repeal site is up and it's a work of staggering cynicism. Rather than focusing on the excise tax as a funding mechanism for local government, the group promoting the tax cut are instead styling themselves as environmentalists. The site's headline is "More Green Now" and they seem to be focusing their entire message on the portion of the legislation that provides a tax break for buying a new hybrid vehicle. I imagine there might be a few actual environmentalists with something to say about this crass attempt to greenwash these tax cuts.
The site is registered to the More Green Now PAC, which is a creature of Maine Leads, the conservative organization that proposed the referenda in cooperation with the Maine Heritage Policy Center. According to its registration form the PAC is run by Roy Lenardson, Chris Cinquemani and Trevor and Anna Bragdon. Interestingly, the form also reveals that Lenardson, Maine Leads' Executive Director, isn't actually a Maine resident anymore. He lists a home in Florida as his mailing address.
Word was handed down by the Secretary of State's office yesterday that four citizen-initiated referenda were approved for the November ballot, including a referendum on providing medical marijuana, a proposed veto of the school consolidation bill passed last session, and two tax measures written and supported by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Maine Leads, a pair of conservative interest groups.
These two groups had also submitted a petition for a third referendum which would have deregulated Maine's health insurance industry, but every single signature was rejected due to a mistake in the signature gathering process. Apparently, the pages on which the legislation was printed were presented out of order, making it difficult for signatories to judge the full intent of the referendum.
Even if the petitions had been printed correctly, other signature collection and administration mistakes would have invalidated 9,509 signatures, according to the Secretary of State's decision, dropping the number below the 55,087 needed to secure a spot on the ballot.
All of these measures will make for an interesting election in November, but the campaign for the new TABOR referendum may be the one to watch. Will Mainers resent the fact that these groups are trying to push a piece of legislation that's already been rejected once, or will they feel that the state fiscal and political situation has changed enough (or has failed to change) so that this kind of blunt tax reform is advisable? We'll start to find out soon.