AUGUSTA -- Maine’s "F" grade from the State Integrity Investigation has led to a number of reforms in the state's ethics rules this year, including a bipartisan transparency bill proposed by Gov. Paul LePage that he signed into law last week.
The reforms also include two bills signed by the governor to stop the so-called “revolving door” at the statehouse, where lawmakers and executive branch officials leave government service and go directly to work as lobbyists.
The governor’s bill, LD 1001, is “a major departure from what we do now,” said Democratic Senator Emily Cain, who sponsored the bill after LePage proposed it. “It will increase transparency and disclosure and will ultimately improve the integrity of the legislature and the public’s access to important information.”
The bill has four major provisions:
• Ownership interests of five percent or more held by lawmakers, executive branch officials or immediate family members in businesses must be reported. Current law requires disclosure only if a majority share is owned.
• Lawmakers or executive branch officials must now disclose if they or immediate family members are in a responsible position in a political party. Current law requires disclosure only if the lawmaker or executive branch official is a responsible officer in a political action commttee (PAC) or ballot question committee.
• The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices must draft rules to require reporting of income of $2,000 or more in ranges that will be determined by the legislature during its next session. Current law only requires that the source of the income be reported, not the amount or range.
• Legislators and executive employees are required to file their disclosure statements electronically and those statements must be available immediately on a publicly accessible website. Current law allows those disclosure statements to be handwritten and an electronic image of the statement is posted on the ethics commission website.
The requirement for electronic forms, said Cain, represents “the beginning of fundamentally changing the public’s ability to access those disclosure records.”
The current handwritten responses are often unreadable and provide little detail. Records will now contain more information about legislators’ business and financial relationships, will be searchable and will allow citizens “to make sense of them in a way that is not cumbersome,” said Cain.