AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - There’s a law in Maine that prohibits police officers from directly soliciting donations from the public.
It was put in place so that people don’t feel intimidated or obligated to donate money to a person of authority. A bill now before Maine lawmakers would change that law.
Today, representatives from police organizations told lawmakers there have been numerous instances where they’ve been unable to hold fundraisers for sick or injured colleagues and their families, because it's illegal.
“If my fellow police officer is ill I cannot raise money for him”, said Paul Gaspar.
Gaspar is executive director of the 1,000 member Maine Association of Police. He is one of several heads of police agencies across the state calling on lawmakers to make a change.
“One of our members is suffering from stage four pancreatic cancer. They were told they could not hold a spaghetti dinner, because it would violate the law," he said.
The only way law enforcement can solicit money on behalf of one of their own is to hire an outside agency to do it. Some of those agencies can keep most of the money they raise, leaving little for the intended officer.
“If they want to raise money they have to use these third parties and these third parties know this. And by knowing this they can set these outrageous administrative overhead fees," said Senator Bill Diamond.
Senator Diamond is the bill’s sponsor. He says police chiefs have told him in some instances they received only 13% of the money raised on behalf of an officer.
The legislature has determined in the past that police solicitations can be "inherently coercive". The Maine Municipal Association opposes changing the law. The group’s legislative advocate says there’s a perception that people could expect favors for donating or retaliation if they don’t.
“Maybe the next time I get pulled over remember I donated to the chicken barbecue or if I don’t participate maybe I do get pulled over," said Kate Dufour of the Maine Municipal Association.
The bill would allow public solicitation only under certain circumstances, such as a sick colleague. Door to door solicitation by police officers would still be prohibited under the bill.