Maine GOP leader’s link to anonymous website adds intrigue to Dems’ collusion claims

Good morning from Augusta. A key official in the Maine Republican Party has been linked by the Sun Journal to an anonymous “news” website, which may add fuel to Democrats’ Tuesday call for an ethics investigation.

The Maine Examiner gained attention after it targeted Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin, a progressive activist who lost a December runoff to Republican Shane Bouchard after the site published negative articles about Chin. One included real, leaked emails from Chin’s campaign in which the candidate said he ran into a “bunch of racists” while stumping.

Data embedded within the Maine Examiner tie the site to Republicans. The Lewiston newspaper reported on Wednesday that metadata stored within files of images posted to the Maine Examiner originated with Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party. A Bangor Daily News review of images on the site found eight image files labeled with Savage’s name, including photos of Chin and a Chevrolet truck and an apparent screenshot of the Twitter account of University of Maine professor Amy Fried, who writes a liberal column for the Bangor Daily News. Chin’s employer, the progressive Maine People’s Alliance, linked Savage to other areas of the site on Thursday, including a publicly available error log that includes the name “jasonsavage207.”

Republicans haven’t yet commented on the links, but this is difficult to explain on the whole. Savage and Maine Republican Party haven’t commented on the links to the site. But in a Thursday statement, party spokesman Garrett Murch said, “We are extremely diligent in reporting all expenses in a timely manner and the Democrat Party’s allegations are without merit.” Murch told the BDN in December that he didn’t know who ran the Maine Examiner and then declined comment when asked if the party coordinated with it. The Sun Journal notes that the images could simply have been initially created by Savage and published by others. That’s true, but the error log issue is more difficult to explain away.

Why does this matter? Operatives can’t influence campaigns anonymously under Maine law. Democrats’ Tuesday ethics complaint against Republicans was relatively thin, with no actual evidence to support coordination with the Maine Examiner. But now there is more heft to the case and Maine law forces entities making independent expenditures above $250 in a municipal election to report them to the city or town. They also have to disclose information about funders. Maine handled a similar case in 2010, when the commission found that a political operative’s anonymous site about gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler wasn’t journalism. A court agreed, upholding a $200 fine. This ethics case is now more interesting.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate continue at the front end of the bill process and are still receiving new bills. One on today’s House calendar for reference to committee comes from Gov. Paul LePage’s Department of Transportation and would create a $150 annual fee for owners of hybrid cars and $250 for electric cars. The House could also debate a resolution to call for a constitutional convention to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Two-thirds of states would have to agree for that to move forward. There is not much of note in the Senate calendar.

Several committees are in action this afternoon, with many transitioning from taking public testimony to voting on recommendations for bills moving on for floor votes The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development committee could take a vote on a bill that would extend the end date for Pine Tree Development Zone benefits for businesses, which would expire at the end of this year unless the Legislature acts. Check out the full committee list by clicking here.

Reading list

  • LePage created a new wind power advisory commission and imposed a moratorium on permits until it can finish a study. The governor said wind power developments need to be studied to mitigate economic and environmental impacts, but opponents are already hinting at legal challenges. The move came a day before Massachusetts is due to choose a huge renewable energy contract that could include wind power from Maine.
  • A federal judge said Wednesday that LePage can’t withhold $3 million in job training funds while his administration appeals a recent decision. Earlier this month, LePage was ordered to release the funds to Brunswick-based Coastal Counties Workforce Inc. The organization sued the administration in October because LePage withheld about $8 million in federal funding. The judge said Wednesday the administration has only “a modest likelihood” of success in its appeal and has to pay out the funds in the meantime.
  • Public schools Down East are taking a multi-pronged approach to improving education. The Cobscook Community Learning Center’s Transforming Rural Experience in Education program is working with schools in some of Maine’s poorest communities to try to improve the odds for students who face some of the biggest childhood challenges anywhere in Maine.
  • Google has become the biggest spender on Washington lobbyists. The search giant spent more than $18 million in 2017 to lobby Congress, federal agencies and the president on issues ranging from tax reform to antitrust laws. A significant amount of the sum was spent in an effort to sway lawmakers on online advertising regulations.

‘Maine man shoots one-eyed rabid raccoon that holed up in an outhouse’

That headline topped a story by the BDN’s Nick Sambides Jr. on Wednesday and it kind of says it all. The incident started when a Washington County woman noticed the animal “behaving strangely” in a disused outhouse on her property. The animal was missing an eye and “talkative and walking around,” according to the woman. Strange indeed.

A game warden told the woman’s husband to shoot the raccoon, which later tested positive for rabies. So everything turned out OK for everyone except the raccoon and the family’s dog Laiyla, who took a sniff but didn’t touch the raccoon. She’s had a rabies shot, earning her today’s soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.