Her compensation comes from that office’s travel budget, says Finance and Administration commissioner Rebecca Wyke, who approves it along with Baldacci’s chief of staff. In 21 months, Karen Baldacci traveled out of state seven times at taxpayer expense, usually with her husband, but went alone to a governors’ “Spouses Seminar” in Oklahoma City in April. Her travel so far has cost taxpayers $4188.
TRAVEL RESTRICTED: To curb spending, Baldacci in July banned all but essential travel by officials. Yet accompanying the Baldaccis are John Richardson, the state Economic and Community Development commissioner; tourism and agriculture bureaucrats; a representative of the Maine Port Authority; two state police bodyguards (one whose expenses will be covered by taxpayers); and three people from the international trade center.
The trip’s coziness bothers some.
“If it’s supposed to benefit the people of Maine, it should be done with no strings attached to lobbyists,” says Jon Bartholomew, acting state director of Common Cause, the government-watchdog group. “There should be no exchange of anything of value. [Baldacci’s] costs should be paid by the state . . . so as to prevent any kind of undue influence on our government officials.”
Bartholomew adds, “The cost of the governor’s wife is very questionable. What’s her role?”
Jon Courtney, the York County Republican senator on the legislative Business Committee, asks the same question. “These trade missions do have some value,” he says, “but I don’t understand why Karen Baldacci is going.”
He suggests the Government Oversight or Appropriations committees might want to look into the financial arrangements for this kind of mission.
But Representative Marilyn Canavan, a Waterville Democrat outspoken on ethics issues, says she doesn’t see a problem with Baldacci taking private money flowing through the trade center because he’s “not benefiting personally.” She adds: “I don’t see any laws were broken.” (See sidebar, “The Rules.”)
The financial arrangements are justified, says the governor's spokesman, David Farmer, because “the trip is organized to support Maine businesses and to help grow the state’s economy.”
Commissioner Wyke adds that the governor may legally “accept gifts in the name of the State.”
Baldacci went to the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2003, Germany and Italy in 2004, and France in 2005. On each of those trade missions, Baldacci accepted private money, officials say.
As for Karen Baldacci, Farmer says, “she does represent Maine and conduct official business.” She paid her own way, however, on previous missions, his office reports.
Baldacci’s impact with foreigners is important, says Janine Bisillon-Carey, the trade center’s director. About $13 million in business orders came from his three previous missions, she says, though those are “estimated” numbers. Theoretically, there may be income taxes from workers hired to fill orders, and Baldacci’s travel ban allows travel if a trip “directly” increases state revenue. But officials would not say how this mission would do that.
His group’s study of Maine ethics laws, says Steve Carpinelli of the Center for Public Integrity, found “no restriction on the acceptance of gifts by the governor,” and our governor is required to disclose little. This is true both formally and informally. “I’m through answering questions,” Farmer, his press aide, says. Baldacci did not respond to a request for an interview.
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