2018-02-01 / Editorial

GOP caught with hand in ethics cookie jar

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

We are living in some very interesting times, politically.

We are now officially in an era of fake news, used as a political tactic by at least one party as a means to undermine the credibility and destroy the character of sitting lawmakers.

Being a target myself, I know this all too well. By now you’ve probably heard about the right-wing blog that is spreading malicious lies about progressive Democrats. It’s been making the headlines in print, TV and online. Some of you may have caught the piece with channel 6 where I call out these tactics head on.

While it was clear to me that the Maine GOP was behind this, there was no disclosure on the conspiracy blog’s website and no campaign finance reports filed to signal who wrote or funded the content. It was all done anonymously. We’ve recently learned that the executive director of the the Maine GOP is now directly involved with the creation of fake news. I guess he didn’t learn how to clear his metadata signature on photos uploaded to the site. It ties right back to him. Maine GOP has been caught with its hands directly in an ethics cookie jar. If they failed to report that activity to influence the outcome of an election with the Maine Ethics Commission, they could be fined for violating ethics policy, which is why the Maine Democratic Party has filed an official ethics complaint. An investigation should take place regarding this connection to not only call it out, but put a stop to it.

One reason they are trying to attack me is my constant persistence to make Maine have the strongest ethics in the entire country. One thing I’ve learned in life is if you don’t have naysayers and critics, you aren’t putting yourself out there enough, you’re not pushing the envelope for what you can achieve.

It takes a great deal of personal and professional sacrifice to take on the political machine, the establishment, the engrained status quo interests and highly paid corporate lobbyists. Those in power want to hold onto that power at all costs. They don’t want to be held accountable. Since I don’t take a dime from lobbyists, I don’t run a PAC, and consistently run as a Clean Election candidate, I cannot and will not be bought. Bottom line: I don’t play the game and that gives me the absolute freedom to vote in the best interest of my district and my constituents without outside pressure.

What they despise though, is the fact that every year, every session, I introduce legislation to clean up the broken system. We have a government today operating as a web of dark money and unspoken pay for play between lobbyists, corporations and the good ol’ boys.

In Augusta, we spend too much time debating each manufactured crisis that comes along based on what special interest group or corporation wants next. The ones with deep pockets are listened to most often. Leadership in both the House and the Senate host meetings that orbit around high level donors with the largest checkbook. Senators in particular, I’ve learned, spend so much time politically fundraising there is a special phrase for it. It’s named “call time.” This happens on a weekly basis while honest to goodness legislativing gets sidelined.

The silver lining to all of this is that we don’t have to merely accept this as a way of life. We can fundamentally change how the state house operates.

As your senator, I’ve introduced bill after bill to end the revolving door of lawmakers becoming lobbyists, end lobbyist contributions to lawmakers, and ban lawmakers from operating PACs. Each time, however, these efforts get shot down. My bill to ensure PACs can’t be used as personal or business slush funds for sitting lawmakers is being held up from even having a public hearing.

Our politics and our democratic institutions are under attack from big money interests and complacent politicians. Now more than ever we need to have vocal leaders to stand up and protect the will of the voters and who represent the highest ideals of public service. Who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves to get the job done.

My fight to create a more ethical, transparent and accountable government isn’t over. In fact, it’s just beginning. The more pressure the public puts on political leaders both at the ballot box and when they are in office, the stronger the likelihood that issues of campaign finance reform will actually be taken seriously and not swept under the rug. The political elite want nothing more than to continue the status quo. They want the public to be unaware of what is really happening behind the scenes. They want those of us who are speaking out to throw in the towel, to silence our voice by any means necessary. This is a culture that we’ve allowed to take place and it’s going to take all of us to change it. It’s going to take all of us to clean up a system to put it back on the side of the people. A government of the people, by the people and for the people is within sight, but we have to fight for it.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president of Saco Main Street. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook/JustinChenette.

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