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House Declines Ethics Review of Lawmaker Who Worked on Question 2 Campaign

The Maine House voted along party lines today to quash an effort to convene an ethics review against a Democratic member who was paid $10,000 to work on a ballot question campaign.

Republicans in the House believe that Orono Rep. Ryan Tipping violated House ethics rules by taking a paid position with the group pushing passage of Question 2 on the fall ballot, the measure that imposes a 3 percent surtax on household incomes over $200,000 a year to fund local schools. Tipping served on the Education Committee at the time, and is now co-chair of the Taxation Committee.

Tipping says he checked with staff at the state Ethics Commission before he took the job, and was told it was not a violation. But that response doesn’t satisfy House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, who told colleagues on the House floor that the Ethics Commission is different from the House Ethics Committee.

“If there is going to be any reference made to the Ethics Commission, the reference should be made to Jonathan Wayne, the executive director, who gave an informal opinion. The Ethics Commission never addressed this issue,” he says.

House Democratic Leader Erin Herbig of Belfast denounced the Republicans’ call to convene the House Ethics Committee as a political stunt and reminded lawmakers of the tremendous amount of work they have to do this session.

“As for me, I want to know when we are going to stop wasting precious time,” she says. “Enough already. It’s time to get back to work.”

The debate became heated at times, prompting several objections and points of order fielded by Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon. Angry charges flew back and forth, as Gideon warned several representatives of the impropriety of questioning the motives of other House members.

The order to have the Ethics Committee investigate Tipping’s actions was defeated on a party line vote of 64-77, and some lawmakers from both parties fear that such a contentious clash so early in this session does not bode well for the months ahead.