AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Democrats in the state House of Representatives defeated a GOP effort Thursday to have a House Ethics Committee investigation of potential conflict of interest by Rep. Ryan Tipping.
Democrats said it was all motivated by partisan politics, but Republicans said it was about principle.
A third-term Democrat, Rep. Tipping was a member of the education committee last year when he took a job with the Question 2 referendum campaign. The group was funded mostly by the teachers union, and was working to pass a referendum to increase taxes on high incomes to get more money for education.
Tipping was paid about $9,000 for that campaign work, and was later re-elected to the Legislature and named chair of the taxation committee.
The Maine Republican Party made the initial complaint because the Taxation Committee will be deciding on several Republican bills to change or eliminate that 3 percent tax increase passed by voters.
House GOP leaders said Thursday they see a conflict of interest on Tipping’s part and wanted the House Ethics Committee to investigate. But Democrats defended him, saying Tipping had cleared the political job with the chairman of the Maine Ethics Commission before taking the job and after completing it.
Democratic leaders also said the legislators routinely sit on committees and vote on bills that affect their own professions.
After a somewhat tense debate – during which Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon had to rule on several “point of order” complaints about what lawmakers were saying in speeches – the House voted against the investigation, 77-64, basically along party lines.
Tipping said he was glad the issue was settled, but also said he had no regrets about taking the paid job or any other actions.
“If I were to do this again, I’d go to the ethics commission right off, show them the contract, ask them for their input," he said. "After the job was done, I’d go to them again and ask for their input, and that’s exactly what I did.”
The issue may be settled in the House, but it is not over.
The Maine Republican Party has filed Freedom of Information requests for communications from Tipping and Speaker of the House Sara Gideon about the issue, and says it will go to court if necessary to get both lawmakers to comply.
House GOP leaders also said the will look into changing House rules to clarify what legislators can and cannot do when it comes to being employed by political action committees.
“It’s about ethics laws as they pertain to PACs and who they’re hiring,” said Rep. Ellie Espling, “and sitting legislators and those who are campaigning and taking clean elections money. I think it raises a lot of questions in legislators minds.”
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