What Diane Russell calls a Leadership PAC is little more than a personal slush fund.
by Wells Lyons
Imagine I organized a yard sale to benefit Reiche, and you all donated your used bikes and books and skis. And then, a year later, you discover that out of the 100 dollars I raised from your donations, I gave Reiche four dollars, while I kept $50 for my time organizing, plus food and travel.
You’d be outraged. You would never trust me to run another school fundraiser again.
Substitute me for Rep. Diane Russell, and a Reiche Fundraiser for her leadership PAC (ostensibly set up to help other candidates win) and there’s the story you’re about to hear.
In December of last year, Rep. Russell was fined $2,000 by the Maine Ethics Commission for failing to disclose expenditures made by her Working Families PAC. She wasn’t late with the legally required information by a week or two, or even a couple of months. No, for more than a year Russell ignored the letters, phone calls and emails of the Maine Ethics Commission. This is on top of a failure to file previous reports, for which Russell was fined another $2,100.
Let’s be clear here. Complying with campaign finance law is not a choice. It’s a legal obligation. Finance reports give voters much needed transparency. We get to see who is supporting which candidate, as well as which lobbyists are attempting to buy votes in this broken system of legalized bribery. Also, we get see where these PACs are spending their money.
It’s no wonder that Diane Russell appears to be doing everything in her power to keep this information from the public. When Naomi Schalit of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reviewed the filings, she came across some jaw-dropping figures.
Of the $39,000 raised for the PAC’s mission of “supporting Democrats in winning seats in the Maine House” only $1,550 actually went to… supporting Democrats winning seats in the Maine House. This is ethically questionable because Russell’s PAC purports to be a leadership PAC, a type of PAC typically used to funnel money to other candidates in competitive races.
These PACs are set up in the hopes of 1) helping other candidates win and 2) the recipient of the funds later helping the donor obtain a leadership post in the party. For example, Rep. Sarah Gideon of Freeport donated over $15,ooo of the $16,000 her PAC raised to other candidates and the party committee.
Diane Russell used the funds she raised, under color of helping other candidates win, to give herself a raise of $7,700 for doing such a good job of running this worst-in-class PAC, and then tacked on another $3500 for food, and $5700 for travel. That’s $16,900 for Russell, and $1550 actually being spent on the mission of helping other Democrats.
This isn’t a leadership PAC anymore. This is a slush fund, plain and simple. Russell has been using her own position as an elected official to profit, all the while misleading donors about how their money would be spent.
When confronted with the question of how trips to Morocco, Las Vegas and San Francisco helped fulfill the mission of electing democrats in the Maine House, Russell responded, “Oh, is that the mission of the PAC? I haven’t changed it?”
This contempt for accountability is shocking. The abuse of entrusted power for private gain is the very definition of corruption. It’s time we vote for someone else. If you wouldn’t trust someone to run a yard sale, you probably shouldn’t trust them to represent you in Augusta either.
Wells Lyons is a community activist and entrepreneur in Portland’s West End.