AUGUSTA, Maine (Legal Newsline) - Last week, Maine Gov. Paul LePage announced his plans to introduce legislation that would prevent Attorney General Janet Mills’ “overreaching of authority.”
LePage said his bill would clarify and restrict the scope of the attorney general’s authority as it pertains to the receiving and spending of public dollars.
The Republican governor said the move is a result of Mills’ taking “unilateral action” after the State received a $21.5 million settlement.
On Feb. 4, Mills, a Democrat, announced the State filed papers settling its complex lawsuit against Standard & Poor’s.
The lawsuit, originally filed two years ago in Kennebec Superior Court, alleged that the credit ratings giant engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in connection with its ratings during the time leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.
The settlement -- the largest ever one-time settlement in Maine’s history -- was negotiated in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice and 19 states and the District of Columbia.
Mill said in last month’s news release that the state’s share will be directed toward “consumer protection and education efforts.”
LePage, in a letter to legislative leadership, argues that the settlement stipulates the amounts allocated to the State are to “be used or expended in any way permitted by applicable state law at each State’s sole discretion.”
Instead, he contends that Mills has reserved to herself “sole discretion” over how the money would be used within a list of specified purposes related to consumer protection.
“She does not have the authority to take settlement proceeds on behalf of the state and unilaterally make policy decisions about how that money should be spent,” LePage wrote legislative leaders.
“Not only does her action overstep her authority, but it is also repugnant to the constitution. As you well know, the constitution clearly asserts that the power to appropriate revenue is held exclusively by the Legislature and checked by the Executive.”
Mills could not immediately be reached for comment; however, her spokesman told the Portland Press Herald last week that such discretion is common.
“The distribution of settlement funds is governed by court order. It is the settlement of a court case, not the appropriation of tax dollars,” Timothy Feeley said. “Language giving the attorney general discretion is common in consumer protection settlements in this and other states.”
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.