Wish I could roll like Rep. Diane Russell and her PAC

I’ve got to get me a leadership PAC. Here I’ve been barely able to scrounge up enough gas money to head due east 30 to 40 miles to look at the ocean, and Rep. Diane Russell has been to Morocco, San Francisco, and Las Vegas thanks, in part, to her political action committee. Russell and her “Working Families PAC” were featured recently in an article by Naomi Schalit at the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, and it’s as much of a must-read (click here) as a leadership PAC is a must-have.

As the article explains:

A “leadership PAC” is a political action committee run by a current member of the legislature or, in rare cases, a former legislator, who aspires to a leadership position. Other lawmakers have used the money in their leadership PACs in support of fellow party members’ electoral ambitions, either directly or indirectly, such as through events.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. (Troy Bennett | BDN)

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

Other highlights from the article:

  • Since 2013 Russell has used nearly 20 percent of total expenditures to pay herself for “online organizing.”
  • The PAC whose mission is to “help support Democrats in winning seats in the Maine House,” only made $1,550 in contributions to support Democratic candidates.
  • Between 2013 and 2015, the PAC paid $3,507 for food and $5,754 for travel costs.
  • The PAC was fined $4,131.80 in 2015 for three instances of campaign finance violations.
  • Russell was two months late in returning unspent Clean Election Funds in 2014.

The article also includes two quotes that really make you wonder … wonder about too many things to try to capture in just one sentence:

  • When asked how her PAC’s spending fulfilled the mission of helping support Democrats in winning seats in the Maine House, Russell said, “Oh, is that the mission statement of the PAC? I haven’t changed it?”

  • When asked how having her PAC pay for expenses associated with those out-of-state trips advanced the PAC’s mission to “help support Democrats in winning seats in the Maine House,” Russell said it didn’t.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, weighed in with background information about the amount of discretion PACs are allowed regarding spending, which is broad. He said, though, “It’s very rare that we see PACs paying legislators for services,” and only recounted two — Russell and former Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford.

In this part of the article, Schalit includes a link to an article (click here) that claimed former state Sen. Cynthia Dill had a leadership PAC that showed she paid herself $3,000 one quarter to write a blog. A $1,000-per-month blogging rate is pretty decent and more evidence I’ve got to get me one of those PACs, but I digress.

Back to Wayne and the bill introduced by the commission in 2015 to nip such expenditures in the bud. It was passed by the Legislature, vetoed by the governor, and the veto was sustained along the party lines that grew so redundant last session. I wish I had been paying attention to that particular bill with knowledge of Russell’s PAC back then.

It would have been fun to do a post about LePage and his stalwarts voting to endorse Russell’s behavior. But that’s the past, and I missed out.

I also missed out earlier this session when I posted about the lone bill introduced by Russell among the other emergency bills (click here), which was to loosen restrictions on contact in roller derby competitions. On top of questioning how such nonsense qualified as an emergency at this critical moment in time in Maine’s history, I could have gotten very snarky about how such cutting-edge legislation must reflect the vast knowledge acquired by Russell in her travels.

And it’s not only Russell’s PAC supporting such non-progress. Schalit reported that other travel expenses related to the Morocco trip were paid for by a women’s advocacy non-profit. Thank goodness I am too poor to contribute to such foolishness. If I ever had and found out my donation may have contributed to that trip for a woman who deems roller blading regulations an emergency when children are going hungry and people with substance abuse disorders are dropping all around us, I’d insist on a refund.

And I’d put it in my tank and head east to look at the ocean.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.