PAC donations from Utah raise
doubts in Maine
May 6, 2007
Romney / Lichfield news ...
At $250,000, it was the largest
private contribution of the 2006 Maine governor's race, helping
to pay for TV commercials supporting Republican Chandler
Woodcock in his bid to unseat Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.
But the money didn't come from a
donor in Portland, Lewiston or Bangor. State records show that
it came from a small city near Zion National Park in
southwestern Utah, from a contributor listed as RECAF Inc.
What is RECAF Inc.? And why did it
donate $250,000 to a political action committee established in
Maine by the national Republican Governors Association?
There is no sign of any such
company at the firm's listed address. But the paper trail links
RECAF to a controversial network of treatment centers for
troubled teenagers affiliated with Robert B. Lichfield, a
fundraiser for Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
Among Maine political
contributions, the RECAF payment stands out. It raises questions
about the effectiveness of both Maine's Clean Elections law,
which is designed to reduce the influence of money in politics,
and of disclosure requirements, which are meant to identify
donors to the public.
And it illustrates how the stream
of unregulated money through the U.S. electoral system allows
out-of-state donors with no apparent stake to have the potential
to shape the outcome of Maine elections.
"There are always opportunities
out there for contributors who are willing to shell out the
cash," said Rachel Weiss, spokeswoman for the Institute on Money
in State Politics, a nonpartisan group based in Helena, Mont.
SIGNIFICANT GOP DONOR
Lichfield, 53, describes himself on campaign disclosure forms as
a self-employed consultant. But he's more than that.
He's also a trustee in the World
Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, a Utah-based
organization affiliated with residential youth treatment centers
around the country and abroad. The association has been the
defendant in multiple lawsuits alleging abuse of children, a
charge the association has denied.
In recent years, Lichfield has
become a significant financial force in GOP circles, giving
hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans in Utah and
In 2004, the Salt Lake Tribune
reported that campaign contributions by Lichfield and his family
and business associates totaled $1.01 million during the 2002
and 2004 elections.
The same story reported that a
Utah bill that would have allowed state regulation of boarding
schools for troubled teenagers was killed six days before
Lichfield gave Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens a $30,000
contribution for his gubernatorial campaign.
Lichfield did not respond to
repeated requests for an interview. In 2004, he spoke with the
Salt Lake Tribune and explained his political contributions this
way: "We've been abundantly blessed, and when you're blessed, we
feel you have a responsibility to bless others."
Unlike in Utah, there is no
obvious connection between Lichfield's business interests and
public policy in the state of Maine.
No youth treatment facilities
known to be associated with Lichfield are located here, and
state officials say they do not place Maine children in any such
facilities out of state.
However, there are links between
Lichfield and Romney, who last fall was chairman of the
Republican Governors Association, the group whose Maine-based
PAC received the $250,000 contribution from RECAF.
Romney's job with the governors
association included raising money on behalf of GOP
gubernatorial candidates across the country.
Lichfield is now serving as
co-chairman of the Utah finance committee for Romney's
presidential campaign, which has an early fundraising lead over
the other GOP contenders.
In February, Lichfield helped
organize a $1,000-per-plate breakfast for the former
Romney spokeswoman Sarah Pompei
declined to say whether Romney was involved in soliciting
RECAF's contribution to the Maine governor's race.
In an e-mailed statement, she
downplayed the connection between Romney and the donor.
"Mr. Lichfield has donated to
numerous Republican candidates and committees," Pompei said in
the statement, "and is just one of more than 34,000 donors to
Governor Romney's campaign."
She referred other questions to
the Washington-based Republican Governors Association, whose
executive director, Nick Ayers, also declined to comment.
The RECAF contribution appears to
fit a pattern in which party officials direct deep-pocketed
party loyalists to give to specific races, Weiss said.
"You may not have a particular
interest in that particular state," she said. "The party may
say, 'These are the states we're kind of focusing on.'"
THE GOP PAC
Last fall's race between Woodcock, Baldacci, Green Independent
Pat LaMarche and independent Barbara Merrill was watched closely
by the Republican Governors Association, since Baldacci was seen
as vulnerable in his re-election bid.
Unlike Baldacci, whose campaign
was privately financed, Woodcock accepted public financing, so
he was barred from receiving private contributions.
However, no such fundraising
limits apply in Maine to political action committees. Their only
limits are the size of contributors' wallets and their
willingness to give.
The Republican Governors
Association established its Maine PAC on Aug. 8, 2006.
According to campaign finance
reports, its first contribution arrived on Aug. 24, a $225,000
payment from RECAF. A second RECAF payment of $25,000 came on
Taken together, the two
contributions were more than twice as big as the next-largest
contributions, Republican or Democratic, involving the Maine
During September, the Republican
governors PAC took to the airwaves in Maine with a series of TV
ads that criticized Baldacci while portraying Woodcock in a
"Chandler Woodcock's experience
means new solutions for Maine's future," said the announcer in
one of the commercials.
LaMarche, the Green Independent
candidate, believed that these commercials and others by the
Democrats should have triggered matching funds for herself and
other taxpayer-funded candidates.
She filed a complaint with the
Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Reform, arguing that
the ads advocated for specific candidates.
But the ethics commission
concluded that none of the ads expressly supported a clearly
identified candidate. The state Supreme Judicial Court upheld
On Oct. 18, 2006, Romney arrived
in Maine to stump for Woodcock. During a campaign stop in
Westbrook, Romney said he would make sure that "hundreds of
thousands of dollars" were spent on Woodcock's behalf.
By the end of the campaign, the
GOP governors PAC in Maine had collected about $714,000, more
than one-third of which came from RECAF.
Woodcock, who lost to Baldacci by
about 10 percentage points, referred questions about the RECAF
contribution to Chris Jackson, his former campaign manager.
Jackson said he had never heard of
RECAF Inc., but he emphasized that the Woodcock campaign, which
received around $1.1 million in taxpayer funds, did not
coordinate with the Republican Governors Association.
"We don't have the first clue
about how they raised their money or where their money came
from," Jackson said.
He pointed out that the PAC's
spending was legal.
"As long as the laws are written
the way they're written, that's just the way it is," he said.
Still, there are questions about whether the reporting of the
RECAF contribution violated Maine law.
It is a criminal misdemeanor, or a
civil violation punishable by a fine of up to $500, for a Maine
political action committee to accept a campaign contribution
from one entity and report it in the name of another, according
to Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the state ethics
The same penalties apply to any
false statement made in campaign disclosure reports. In this
case, the address listed for RECAF is 170 N. State St. in La
However, the entire 100 block of
North State Street is occupied by Cross Creek Programs, a youth
treatment center that sits on land owned by a partnership in
There is no sign for RECAF outside
the Cross Creek complex, and no evidence of a street address at
170 N. State. People working at Cross Creek expressed bafflement
when asked about RECAF.
After being told that the
newspaper could not find any sign of RECAF Inc. at the Utah
address reported to the state, Wayne said that he plans to write
a letter to the GOP political action committee asking it to
clarify whether the contributor's name and address were
accurately reported, as state law requires.
"Based on what I've heard so far,
I would say it sounds like a matter of concern," Wayne said.
The rationale behind disclosure
requirements is straightforward: While every American has the
right to spend their own money in political races, the public
also has a right to know who's giving, since contributions often
lead to political access.
"If you're hiding your identity
and you're trying to make a political change occur, to me that's
counter to a democracy," LaMarche said.
Even if the Maine ethics
commission finds that the RECAF contribution was reported
accurately, the case stands as an example of a larger
phenomenon: money flowing through the gaps in campaign-finance
Maine has a $500 limit on
individual contributions to gubernatorial candidates, but it is
one of only 13 states that does not limit the size of
contributions to political action committees.
House Speaker Glenn Cummings,
D-Portland, has filed a bill that would cap PAC contributions at
$7,500, though some believe that such a limit would simply lead
to cash being routed through different channels.
"Money always finds the path of
least resistance," said Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the
Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group in
Washington, D.C., that tracks money in politics.
RECAF was not the only large
out-of-state contributor during last year's race for governor.
National labor unions made big contributions to Democratic
political action committees, getting around the cap on
contributions to Baldacci's privately financed re-election
campaign, and corporations gave large sums to the Republican
Merrill, the independent candidate
for governor in 2006, said these contributions expose what she
believes is the biggest loophole in Maine's Clean Elections law:
Parties can raise unlimited sums and spend that money in support
of candidates who are barred from private fundraising.
Merrill blames the two major
political parties for the current situation.
"I just think both of the parties have made a complete farce out
of the Clean Elections law," she said.
-- Staff Researcher Julia McCue contributed to this report
Staff Writer Kevin Wack can be
contacted at 791-6365 or at: