Casino Campaign Facing Up To $4 Million Penalty Days Before Vote

Nov 1, 2017

The Maine Ethics Commission has delayed by a few days a decision on whether to penalize the campaign behind a casino proposed for York County.  The commission is investigating whether the campaign hid the source of over $4 million in funding for more than a year.

The commission took over 10 hours of testimony and cross examination from the attorneys representing Lisa Scott, Augusta lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake and investors in a campaign that has spent close to $9 million to pass Question 1.

During the hearing, Lisa Scott and Timberlake sought to blame each other for not reporting donations from offshore and domestic firms.

All of the firms are either linked to Lisa Scott's brother Shawn Scott - who would hold exclusive rights to the gambling license - or other investors in the project.

Timberlake was the treasurer for the ballot committee that spent more than $4 million just to qualify for the ballot.  She told the commission that she was unaware of the other donors to the campaign, which she described as the "corporate veil."

"Lisa was the face and the manager of this initiative," Timberlake said. "All of the behind-the-scenes discussions regarding money transfers and exchanges were not known to us."

Attorney Bruce Merrill represents Lisa Scott. He said his client relied on Timberlake's advice during the campaign and it was commonly known that Shawn Scott and his associates were bankrolling the initiative.

Merrill also said Timberlake was feigning ignorance to escape what could be a hefty fine by the commission.

"I don't think Cheryl would admit that today is Halloween if either myself or Mr. Mina asked her that question," Merrill said. "I believe she's scared. I believe she's afraid and I believe she's put herself in a position that she can't extricate herself from."

Lisa Scott led the committee and appeared as the only donor to the campaign for over a year.

New reports filed in April revealed a complicated funding network that prompted the commission's investigation.

Ethics director Jonathan Wayne described the arguments from Timberlake and Lisa Scott as wildly divergent and possibly without precedent.

But Wayne, who is recommending a yet undisclosed fine against the campaign committee, says the five-member commission doesn't need to determine which side is telling the truth.

"Because the burden is not on you to figure out any particular state of mind. You don't have to decide who's lying or who did this intentionally, or who did this carelessly," he said. "You just need to know that reports have not been filed on time and consequences to the public were significant."

And the penalty could be significant, as well. The report and the fine recommended by ethics have not been released to the public.  But according to campaign finance law, the penalty could be as high as $4 million.

Such a fine, or even half of it, would be the largest ever by the commission. With that outcome in mind, the commission voted to postpone it's decision until Friday - just five days before voters go the polls to decide Question 1.