Maine AG investigating petition drive alleged to be ‘rife with fraud’

Maine’s Attorney General is considering filing charges over a 2021 petition aimed at banning non-citizens from voting in local elections but has since been deemed a “full-scale fraud.”

The measure was not voted on because the supporters had not collected enough valid signatures. The effort was led by We the People, a political action committee controlled by House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, and a national conservative group called the Liberty Initiative Fund – Maine.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows told lawmakers last week that her office referred the case to the AG after finding that 40% — more than 25,000 — of some 66,400 signatures submitted were invalid. According to Bellows, interviews were conducted with petition collectors and people whose names were fraudulently included in the petitions.

“We can’t go into the details of the law enforcement investigation,” Bellows said. “The information was sufficient to indicate to law enforcement that a substantial fraud was involved, which was referred to the Attorney General’s Office. It is up to the (AG office) whether this extends to the level of criminal prosecution.”

Bellows did not say how many of the invalid signatures were deemed fraudulent.

A spokesman for the Attorney General did not answer questions about the timing of the referral, the status of the review, or who the investigation was against.

“I can confirm that a referral was received,” said Danna Hayes, a special assistant to the attorney general. “Our office does not comment on investigations, so I cannot comment further.”

Faulkingham said he was unaware of the possible fraud and referral to the AG until he was contacted by a Bangor Daily News reporter covering Bellows’ comments on Monday. Faulkingham said he expects charges to be filed, but not against himself or his PAC.

“You didn’t call me,” Faulkingham said.

Paul Rossi, an attorney representing We the People PAC, said that to the best of the campaign’s knowledge, only one member of the campaign — someone who came forward as a witness and confirmed the validity of voter signatures — was contacted about the investigation. That person has already been fired for being deemed untrustworthy, he said. Rossi said the campaign would support the prosecution of those committed fraudulently.

“We want scammers to be prosecuted,” Rossi said.

If charges are filed, it wouldn’t be the first time in Maine that a petition has resulted in a prosecution. Stavros Mendros, who lives in Lewiston, pleaded guilty in 2007 to failing to follow due process in his capacity as a notary public over a casino referendum campaign.

The non-citizen voting petition campaign is also the subject of an independent litigation over the use of signature collectors who are not Maine residents.

Bellows told lawmakers that the initiative’s organizers successfully sued the state in 2021 after state officials said out-of-state signature collectors could not collect signatures for a citizens’ referendum. The state is currently in settlement negotiations after the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that residents outside of the state can collect signatures.

Bellows said the settlement could require the state to pay We the People PAC tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars — a cost that would have to be approved by the Legislature.

While the objectives of the investigation are unclear, Bellows warned lawmakers at the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee last Wednesday not to assume the investigation would focus on out-of-state signature collectors, saying “many” of those questioned were Maine residents.

“It’s just a petition that was full of fraud and a petition that was the subject of a lawsuit for which the Elections Department has to pay legal fees,” she said.

The petition was organized by Auburn resident James Tracey, who received more than $600,000 from the Liberty Initiative Fund – Maine and more than $65,000 from We the People PAC. The Liberty Initiative Fund also paid Mathew Boucher of Oakland $8,000 and Franklyn Gonzalez of Tenafly, NJ $3,000 to work on the petition drive.

Tracey did not respond to a voicemail or text message requesting an interview. A message left on a phone number associated with Boucher was not returned, and a phone number listed for Gonzalez did not accept voicemail.

Rossi, the PAC attorney, said that to the best of their knowledge, investigators had not contacted Tracey.

The Citizens’ Initiative petition grew out of a 2018 debate in Portland over allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections.

Non-citizens cannot vote in federal or state elections, but it is unclear whether they can vote in local elections. Portland officials were advised by an attorney that the city would likely end up in court if they proceeded with the proposal.

A Republican legislature from Hancock County unsuccessfully attempted to pass an amendment to the Maine constitution in 2019 to specifically bar noncitizens from voting in local elections. After that failed, a citizen initiative was launched by We the People, which received more than $350,000a national conservative group, the Liberty Initiativeive fund.

Attorney General Aaron Frey testified against it Faulkingham’s proposed constitutional amendments in both 2019 and earlier this year, arguing that state laws already state that a person “must be a United States citizen” to vote in the Maine election.

The allegations of petition fraud come after Rep. Clinton E. Collamore Sr., D-Waldoboro, was indicted in December on multiple counts of aggravated forgery, unsworn forgery and Clean Election Act violations, as per the indictment filed Dec. 15 Proceeds from Lincoln County Superior Court.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, has called on Callamore to resign.

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