AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine Ethics Commission is looking into the finances of a controversial casino campaign backed by an offshore investment firm.
Ethics staff wants to ensure that all donors to the Horseracing Jobs Fairness campaign are complying with Maine's campaign disclosure laws.
According an email from ethics director Jonathan Wayne, the commission has asked the campaign to discuss its funding following a legislative hearing held Wednesday, during which Bridge Capital revealed that it's backing the York County casino initiative.
Bridge Capital is owned by casino developer Shawn Scott, yet neither the firm nor Scott appear on any of the campaign finance reports. To date, Scott's sister, Lisa Scott, of Miami, has contributed more than $4 million to the campaign.
Bridge Capital has a history of hiding its finances in casino referendums, most recently last year during a failed effort in Massachusetts. Bridge Capital ultimately paid a $125,000 fine to Massachusetts regulators for concealing more than $1.6 million in donations.
Wayne said the campaign has agreed to discuss its funding, but a date has not been set.
The campaign's funding surfaced during a public hearing held by the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday. However, Dan Riley, an attorney hired by Bridge Capital just hours before the hearing, said he did not know enough about the campaign to answer questions, including whether Lisa Scott has been paid by Bridge Capital or any other firm to finance the Maine campaign.
Bridge Capital is a high-risk investment firm based in Saipan, of the Mariana Islands. Shawn Scott is a partner in the firm, which also bankrolled an unsuccessful campaign last year to build a slots parlor near Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts.
Lawmakers had a lot of questions about the casino campaign, which has spent more than $4 million just to get on the ballot and has thus far operated well outside of the realm of traditional campaigns.
Scott first brought gambling to Maine after his campaign successfully convinced Bangor voters to approve slots at a race track there in 2003.
Scott later obtained a racino license, but not before the Maine Harness Racing Commission accused him and his business associates of operating a web of shell companies and “sloppy, if not irresponsible financial management.” The report also revealed Scott and his associates were involved in more than two dozen lawsuits over an eight-year period.
The trail of litigation has followed Scott and his associates ever since he sold the Bangor facility to Penn National in 2004, netting $51 million. That includes the Laos government's seizure two years ago of a gambling facility run by Bridge Capital over corruption charges.
The way the ballot initiative is written, Scott would be the only person who could build the casino if voters approve the proposal in November.