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Proposed Law Would Relax Some Police Fundraising Restrictions

Maine law currently prohibits police officers from engaging in fundraising for any reason, even to assist a fellow officer’s family in crisis. The legislature is considering a proposal that would carve out a narrow exception to that ban, but opponents say there are good reasons why the law is in place.

Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat from Windham, wants to allow law enforcement officers in Maine to raise money for a fellow officer or the officer’s family member, when facing a personal crisis, such as a serious illness. Diamond says the only option available now is through professional fundraisers, but most of the money goes to the fundraiser rather than the family. In one case he reviewed, Diamond says , 87% of the money raised went to the fundraiser.

Paul Gaspar of the Maine Association of Police told the criminal justice committee that he supports Diamond’s bill. He says the current law is well-intentioned – but too restrictive.

“Also, if their daughter or spouse was afflicted with a catastrophic illness or event, a house fire or what not, we still could not raise money for them,” Gaspar said.

York County Sheriff Bill King says the way the law is written, Maine law enforcement officers and their families are prohibited from accepting assistance from groups that commonly help police in other states.

“Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis clubs, community groups enjoy helping their law enforcement families, but it doesn’t happen in Maine,” King said. “Current legislation makes acceptance and solicitation of almost anything by well-intentioned community members unlawful or very cumbersome.”

King points out that the legislation would still not allow police to solicit door to door, a concern that was raised when the original law was passed.

Kate Dufour of the Maine Municipal Association is opposed to weakening the current restriction, which she says gaurds against the potential abuse of authority, or even the perception of it.

“There might be an expectation, or a perception, right or wrong that if an individual does not give or respond to a direct solicitation from a current law enforcement officer there may be adverse effects,” said Dufour.

Dufour says some people may also wrongly believe that if they do give a donation, they might benefit the next time they are stopped for a traffic infraction. She says the 70-member policy committee of the MMA representing city and town officials across the state voted to oppose the bill. Legislation loosening the state ban on police solicitation has failed in past sessions.