Maine Rep. Clinton Collamore, D-Waldoboro, pleaded not guilty to 33 charges related to alleged violations of the Maine Clean Election Act on Thursday, Feb. 16. In a statement to reporters after his arraignment at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Wiscasset, he said he would resign from his legislative seat.
He said he will also return the campaign funds issued to him, and has already returned salary he earned in the last month for his position.
Collamore was elected in November to represent House District 45, which consists of Bremen, Friendship, Louds Island, Waldoboro, and Washington. He defeated Lynn Madison, R-Waldoboro, for the seat.
Collamore was indicted on the 33 charges – 20 felony charges of aggravated forgery, 11 misdemeanor charges of unsworn falsification, and one count of criminal violation of the Maine Clean Election Act – on Dec. 15 alleging that he forged signatures on forms needed to qualify for taxpayer-funded campaign money through the Maine Clean Election Act.
The act provides funds to candidates who collect $5 minimum contributions and signatures from at least 60 registered voters in their district.
Collamore left the courthouse Thursday on personal recognizance with no special conditions, meaning he was released without having to post bail as he promised in writing to appear in court when required. He will return for a dispositional conference on Monday, March 20.
After a meeting with a prosecutor from the district attorney’s office about the case, the case could be settled by a plea bargain or move on to a motion hearing or jury trial docket.
“We’re going to basically show that Clinton had no intent whatsoever to try to defraud anybody,” Collamore’s attorney Richard Elliott, of the Boothbay Harbor firm Elliott & Elliott, said outside the courthouse.
Elliott said that Collamore did not “follow the rules,” but that the donations were legitimate, though the signatures were not.
“The allegations have nothing to do with him taking money fraudulently,” Elliott said.
He pointed to the fact that Collamore turned in more than enough verified signatures required on several payment submissions, and that the donations were all made by “real people.”
“There’s absolutely no allegation here that he submitted fraudulent documents to obtain funds. It’s simply not the case,” Elliott said.
An emotional Collamore said he received some donations when he did not have signature cards with him, such as at yard sales, lobster boat races in Friendship, and on a visit to the Waldoboro Food Pantry, and signed the cards himself afterwards.
Elliott said Collamore went to the Maine Ethics Commission before the election and offered to self-report the signatures.
“It’s definitely wrong, it’s not the rules, but it’s not the fraud that I think everybody thought was happening,” Elliott said.
Collamore was removed from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, on Feb. 1, his only committee seat. He has not appeared in Augusta since Monday, Jan. 16, he said.
“I think it’s best for the people that voted for me if I resigned,” Collamore said. “I’ve been taken off the committee … and I can’t be effective. And if you can’t be effective, it’s no good for the voters.”
Collamore said he has not appeared in Augusta because the process has affected his health, and he has returned his salary for that month.
Elliott said there is no deal in place requiring Collamore to return his salary or campaign funds, and the lawmaker made the decision on his own.
Collamore received $14,274 in campaign funding over seven payments beginning last April.
Elliott said that between $12,000 and $15,000 would be returned to Augusta next week once a final number is determined.
More than 10 people appeared at the arraignment in support of Collamore, several of whom said they had known him for more than 40 years.
“We’re here because we support him and know him to be an honest man who made a bad mistake,” Emily Trask-Eaton, of Waldoboro, said outside the courthouse after Collamore entered his plea.
“I’ve been very embarrassed,” Collamore said. “I wasn’t trying to defraud anyone or anything. It makes me sick to my stomach to even think of it.”