- Associated Press - Thursday, August 16, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine’s ethics commission said Thursday that it will release up to $3 million in public campaign funds that lawmakers set aside this year for one gubernatorial candidate and over 200 legislative candidates.

The commission voted 3-1 Thursday to release the money, which has been held up by a typo in a budget law passed last year.

Lawmakers have been at a deadlock and have failed to fix the typo, which has meant that the state’s ethics commission since July hasn’t been able to give additional public campaign funds to candidates who qualify. Candidates can qualify for the money by collecting enough $5 contributions.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration recently agreed to comply with a judge’s order to release another pot of public campaign funding: over $1 million due to candidates through June. LePage, who has called the money “welfare for politicians,” held up the money by refusing to sign routine financial orders.

John Brautigam, a Maine Citizens for Clean Elections lawyer, told the Maine’s ethics commission Thursday that the judge was clear the Legislature and governor shouldn’t be involved with distributing campaign funds.

Several ethics commissioners agreed and said that same logic should apply to more money that’s been held up.

“We have to ensure that we perform our side of the bargain,” said ethics commissioner chair William Lee, a Democrat. “It’s fundamental fairness and it’s at the core of democracy.”

Commissioner Richard Nass, a former Republican lawmaker, disagreed and said the commission should have left it up to lawmakers to fix the issue.

“Everyone’s got a pot of money,” he said. “If you’re not careful, if you don’t have controls on it, it’s chaotic.”

Maine voters in 1996 approved the nation’s first program to fully fund candidates, and lawmakers have funded it for two decades. Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the ethics commission, said he doesn’t anticipate the fund will give out “anywhere near” $3 million this year.

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