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Advisory Opinions


Receipt of Gifts

Attorney General Opinion, February 17, 1981
A legislator asked whether she could voluntarily solicit contributions, including foundation grants, for the Kennebec River Future Commission, which was in the process of being created by legislation. The Attorney General said that she could, without compensation, solicit grants and donations from private sources on behalf of a public entity. The Attorney General also suggested that she get the approval of both the governor and the legislative council to accept the funds solicited before the legislation creating the new commission became effective; that she refrain from soliciting from those who were interested in matters pending before the legislature; and that she guard against creating the impression that she was soliciting funds on behalf of the governor or legislative council.

Attorney General Opinion, August 18, 1983
The Maine Whitewater Outfitters Association invited legislators on a Penobscot River rafting trip at a rate of $15 for up to two rate. The Attorney General said that legislators could not accept the trip at that rate, as it appeared to be a gift intended to influence the legislators in the performance of their official duties.

 

Conflicts of Interest: Financial Benefit from Legislation

Attorney General Opinion, June 10, 1983
A legislator asked whether it would be a conflict of interest for her to vote on a bill to limit future increases the cost of hospital care, when her spouse had provided legal advice and counsel to a medical practice affiliated with a Maine hospital concerning the bill. Although the Ethics Commission found this to be a conflict, the Attorney General concluded it was not because there was no indication that the client would derive a direct financial benefit from passage or defeat of the legislation, or that the legislator's spouse would derive any financial benefit from passage or defeat of the legislation since, as a lawyer, he would be paid for rendering legal advice on the bill whether or not it was enacted.

Attorney General Opinion, September 6, 1984
A bill pending before the legislature would have authorized teacher recognition grants of $1,000 per teacher, for which all full-time teachers in qualifying schools would be eligible. In response to a legislator's inquiry, the Attorney General concluded that it would not be a conflict of interest for a legislator who was a full-time teacher, or whose spouse was a full-time teacher, to vote on the legislation, even though he or she would be eligible to receive a grant if the bill passed. The benefit to be derived by the legislator-teacher (or his or her spouse), although direct, financial, and personal, was not "unique and distinct … from that of persons engaged in similar professions." The bill applied equally to all members of the teaching profession in public schools in Maine.

Speaker's Counsel Advice, June 10, 1985
The House speaker asked his counsel whether legislators who owned or sold mutual insurance policies had a conflict of interest in voting on a bill that would establish procedures and standards for demutualization of insurance companies. The speaker's counsel determined that there was no conflict of interest for policy owners because the bill did not financially benefit the mutual insurance companies, and even if policy holders received a benefit, it would not be a direct or substantial benefit. With respect to sellers of such policies, the bill would either confer no benefit or confer no benefit that was unique and distinct from others in the business.

Attorney General Advice, March 29, 1991
A legislator who owned rental property asked the Attorney General whether the conflict of interest law would prevent him from voting on two bills that would require landlords to pay interest on tenant security deposits. The Attorney General advised that the law did not bar the legislator's voting on the bills because the bills would apply equally to all landlords in the State, so the legislator-landlord's interest was not unique and distinct from that of other landlords.

Attorney General Advice, October 2, 1992
While the legislature was considering the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Workers' Compensation, legislators asked the Attorney General about the ethical duties of lawyer-legislators who handle, or whose firms handle, workers' compensation cases. The Attorney General's Office advised that all legislators were obliged to disclose their specific sources of income, and lawyer legislators were required to disclose the major areas of law practice for themselves and their firms. However, lawyer-legislators who practiced workers' compensation law were not barred from voting on workers' compensation issues because any benefits that flowed from passage of those recommendations would not be unique and distinct from benefits received by others in that line of work.

Ethics Commission Advisory Opinions, April 9, 2003 & August 15, 2003
A legislator who worked for a private non-profit corporation as the administrator of a program that would receive State funds under pending legislation was not prohibited from voting on that legislation because the legislator had no personal financial interest in the legislation. The criteria cited by the Ethics Commission in reaching this conclusion included that the non-profit corporation's contract with the state was awarded after a competitive bidding process, that the legislator did not own the non-profit corporation, that the legislator was not a director or an officer of the non-profit corporation, that the legislator's compensation would not be increased if the legislation passed, and that none of the State funds involved could be used for administrative purposes. However, the Ethics Commission said that the legislator may wish to recuse himself merely to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion, March 7, 2007
A legislator asked whether it would be a conflict for him to vote on legislation authorizing Maine’s involvement in a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gases, including establishment of a cap and trade program for carbon dioxide emissions.  The have significant financial implications for the legislator’s employer, as the owner of two out of only six small power plants in the State that would likely be required to purchase carbon dioxide allowances.  There was no evidence that the legislator’s job responsibilities or compensation would be affected.  The Commission concluded that it would not be a conflict of interest for the legislator to participate in the legislative process regarding the greenhouse gas initiative, but cautioned him to examine each specific bill related to the initiative to determine its affect on his employer and to consider whether voting on it would constitute an actual or potential conflict.

Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion, March 12, 2007
A legislator employed as the  environmental manager of a paper mill asked if it would be a conflict of interest for him to vote on legislation that would create an exception to the assessment of fines and penalties for failure to report small quantity oil spills.  The mill was one of a large number of entities in the state affected by the legislation. The Commission found that this legislator would not derive any benefit unique and distinct from that of others engaged in the same trade or business. Thus voting on the bill would not present a conflict of interest.

Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion, March 12, 2010
Applying the reasoning of the June 10, 1983 Attorney General’s advisory opinion, the Ethics Commission found that it was not a conflict of interest for a legislator to vote on legislation to streamline the permitting process for wind power projects when the legislator’s spouse was a lawyer who represented wind power companies.  There was no indication that the legislator’s vote on the bill would have any effect on his spouse’s compensation as a lawyer or would result in any financial benefit or detriment to their family.

Ethics Commission Staff Advice Letter, April 7, 2011
A legislator who was employed by the University of Maine as a professor and pest management specialist with the University’s Cooperative Extension Service asked whether it would be a conflict of interest for him to vote on (A) a budget bill that would provide $200,000 for the integrated pest management programs which he directs, or (B) a bond issue to finance construction of a new Insect and Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, which would allow expansion of the programs he directs.  The legislator’s salary and benefits were set by a collective bargaining agreement and thus would not be affected by passage of these bills.  Applying the reasoning of the June 10, 1983 Attorney General’s advisory opinion and the Commission’s March 12, 2010 advisory opinion to Rep. John Hinck, the Commission staff concluded that voting on these bills would not constitute an actual conflict of interest since neither of these bills would provide a direct pecuniary benefit to the legislator.

Ethics Commission Staff Advice Letter, February 25, 2014
A legislator who was employed by an agency providing behavioral health care services in Maine asked whether his past and on-going efforts to promote passage of legislation expanding the MaineCare program to cover a larger number of Maine residents would constitute a conflict of interest.  The Commission staff, applying the reasoning of the June 10, 1983 Attorney General’s advisory opinion and the Commission’s March 12, 2010 advisory opinion to Rep. John Hinck, concluded that it would not pose a conflict under § 1014(1)(E) or (F) because the financial impact to his employer would not be unique or distinct from that of other health care providers, and it would not pose a conflict under § 1014(1)(A) due to the lack of any direct personal financial benefit to him as an employee of the provider.

 

Conflicts of Interest: Committee Assignment

Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion, March 9, 2006
A legislator asked the Ethics Commission whether his employment as the environmental manager for a major paper mill regulated by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection should preclude his appointment to the legislative committee that oversees that department. The Ethics Commission noted that the statutes acknowledge that most legislators must rely on private sources of income. The Commission also noted that the committees are well served by members who bring relevant specialized knowledge and experience. While the Commission found that the legislator's service on the committee did not create a per se conflict of interest, it cautioned him to carefully consider recusing himself from voting on particular matters that affect his employer in order to avoid the appearance of misconduct.

 

Contracts with State Agencies

Attorney General Advice, January 30, 1986
The Deputy Secretary of State asked the Attorney General's Office whether a member of the legislature could also serve as executive director of the Maine County Commissioners Association when a significant portion of the director's duties would include acting as a lobbyist. The Attorney General's Office advised that such employment would likely violate both the "entire spirit" of the conflict of interest statutes and the common law principles on conflicts of interest. A number of Maine cases have articulated the rule that a public officer is required to be totally faithful to his or her public duties, rather than his or her personal interests.

Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion, April 30, 1998
A legislator who worked as president of a company that received a "sole source," no-bid contract to provide claims processing services for the State asked the Ethics Commission whether the company's acceptance of the contract constituted abuse of office under the conflict of interest statute. The Commission understood that the contract was granted on an emergency basis because the previous contractor served notice of withdrawal from its contract without allowing sufficient time for a competitive bid process. For that reason, the State Division of Purchases approved the sole source contract, as it is allowed to do by the State purchasing laws under such circumstances. The Commission also noted that the legislator's company took the contract on the same terms as the previous contractor, with no increase in rates. Further, the Commission noted that the legislator owned no stock in the company. Based on those facts, the Commission determined that no abuse of office conflict of interest had developed through the company's acceptance of the contract. However, the Commission strongly recommended that the legislator abstain from any matter that may raise the appearance of a conflict of interest due to the contractual relationship between the company and the State.

Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion, April 9, 2003
A legislator asked the Ethics Commission whether he could accept a contract with the State to serve as the "Dean" of the Maine Leadership Institute under the statute the creates a presumption of a conflict of interest for a legislator or a member of his was put through a competitive bidding process, and the legislator was the winning bidder. The Ethics Commission advised that the legislator had no conflict of interest and could accept the contract because it was offered only after a competitive bidding process.

 

Conflicts of Interest: Undue Influence on State Agencies

Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion, October 14, 1988
The Real Estate Commission complained to the Ethics Commission about the actions of three legislators who attempted to influence the outcome of a case against a friend of one of the legislators pending before the Real Estate Commission. The influence came in the form of a letter to the Real Estate Commission from all three legislators as well as phone calls from one of the legislators to that commission's chairman, its chief investigator, and the commissioner of the executive department that administered the commission. The Ethics Commission found that the primary legislator's motive was purely to assist his friend in having the friend's case dismissed, and it found that motive to be inappropriate. The Ethics Commission found that the legislators' actions constituted undue influence.