Maes’ repayment of Poundstone draws more campaign finance scrutiny

Last month GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes paid a record $17,500 in fines for violating the state’s campaign finance laws — laws which he has called ridiculous. This month he may have more fines to pay, or in any event more questions to answer.

At the top of the list is a $300 check his campaign gave to disgruntled former supporter Freda Poundstone. The problem is, he never reported a campaign contribution from Poundstone. To hear Poundstone tell it, that is because she never made a campaign contribution. She says she met him at a bank and gave him at least $300 to help him pay his mortgage.

At first Maes waffled on the question of whether the money was for his personal use or was a campaign contribution, though lately he has favored the contribution story.

If it was a contribution, then he broke the law by not reporting it and also by accepting it in cash. Even if Maes didn’t know the law, longtime lobbyist and Republican activist Poundstone probably would have. If it was a personal gift, then why didn’t he pay it back with personal funds? If he re-paid a personal gift with campaign funds that would amount to a conversion of campaign funds into personal funds, confirmed Secretary of State spokesman Rich Coolidge.

And while it is not strictly illegal for a candidate for office to accept personal gifts separate from campaign contributions, it gets dicey.

“Would she have given him this gift, if that is what it was, if he was not running for office?” Coolidge asks.

Asked whether campaign finance laws could be skirted by a candidate accepting a very large personal gift from a supporter and then contributing the money to his or her own campaign, Coolidge said it might be possible except that the candidate would have to declare the gift as income on his personal financial disclosure statement.

Maes’ disclosure, filed in March (before he allegedly accepted the money from Poundstone), shows no such gifts.

Beyond the issue of the Poundstone gift/contribution is the ongoing question of how Maes spends campaign contributions. It was first reported months ago that he paid substantial amounts to himself as mileage reimbursements and that he paid a salary to his daughter to work on the campaign, neither of which is expressly prohibited as long as the expenses are documented and as long as those expenses contribute materially to the candidate’s election.

Well, he’s still doing it. The campaign has paid Maes more than $10,000 for mileage since April 30. The campaign has paid his daughter, Jordan, $5,700 in that time.

In addition to giving Poundstone $300, the campaign has returned at least $950 to other donors in the last month. It is not unusual for candidates to return contributions to people who have either contributed more than the law allows or just decided they no longer support the candidate. In the latter case, Coolidge says returning money is voluntary on the campaign’s part.

Maes campaign did not return a call. Poundstone could not be reached.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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