The panel enforcing Maine’s ethics and campaign finance laws will broaden its probe into the failed 2011 bid to establish a Lewiston casino. The doomed ballot initiative may be two years old, but its odd intersection of the state’s influential political actors and their attempts to shield their activities – and donors – is generating a fair amount of intrigue.
The investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission has already uncovered interesting facts, including that the true source of the $412,000 in donations to two pro-casino political action committees was never disclosed to voters. Also, M5, the Maryland company that would have run the casino had the ballot measure passed, contracted with Brent Littlefield, Gov. Paul LePage’s chief political consultant, to perform a host of campaign-related activities, including voter outreach and advertising.
The Sun Journal in Lewiston, citing an unnamed source, reported that Littlefield had shielded his role in the campaign. During a Dec. 5 Ethics Commission hearing, Peter Robinson, an Auburn lawyer involved in the campaign, publicly confirmed that Littlefield directed the operation. Additionally, the commission subpoenaed the strict confidentiality agreement between M5 and Dome Messaging, a Virginia-based company that Littlefield operated from a rented mailbox.
All of that is interesting fodder for political junkies.
But there may be more.
Remember: The complaint that the Lewiston casino political action committees weren’t on the up-and-up is more than two years old. It was initiated by Dennis Bailey, a longtime Maine political consultant who has done a lot of work for Casinos No, a group with a strong track record of defeating ballot initiatives to allow gambling facilities in the state. In 2011, Bailey somehow got his hands on a private agreement between M5 and Great Falls LLC, a group of Lewiston investors.
The document ultimately provided clues that have helped Ethics Commission investigators trace the true source of the campaign donations. So how did Bailey get such an explosive, private document?
Bailey said last week that he doesn’t know. He suspected that it may have come from backers of the Oxford casino that Bailey and Casinos No failed to defeat at the ballot box in 2010.
The 2011 election was a busy one for Friends of Oxford Casino, the political action committee that formed to oppose two gambling facility proposals. One was a Biddeford racino and partner facility in Washington County. The second was the Lewiston casino. The reason for Oxford’s opposition was straightforward: There’s a limited market for gambling in the state (LePage on the eve of the election famously said Maine couldn’t afford five casinos) and the Oxford casino hadn’t yet opened. If Biddeford or Lewiston were successful in 2011, the viability of the Oxford facility could have been threatened.
Oxford backers spared no expense in their efforts to defeat the 2011 gambling proposals. They hired a top political consulting firm, Strategic Advocacy. The firm is headed by Roy Lenardson, a longtime political operative who has consulted for a host of Republican campaigns and for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. (In 2011, he took some of MHPC’s top talent to form a similar conservative advocacy firm in Florida, the Foundation for Government Accountability.)
Strategic Advocacy now operates in Maine and Florida, and some of Lenardson’s operatives have landed jobs with the LePage administration, which Littlefield now consults for. In fact, Lenardson’s group and Littlefield both worked on Rick Bennett’s unsuccessful 2012 bid to win the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.
Lenardson also has a connection with Dennis Bailey. Bailey said Lenardson once worked for Casinos No. The two still talk from time to time.
They talked in 2011 when Bailey was trying to figure out who was running Dome Messaging. He said Lenardson already knew who it was.
“He said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Brent Littlefield.’ ” Bailey said last week.
Asked if Lenardson gave him the document that helped unravel the secrets of the Lewiston casino, Bailey paused briefly, then said, “I can’t confirm that. I don’t know.”
POSSIBLE SHREDDING PENALTY
Last week’s report by the Legislature’s watchdog agency that supervisors at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention ordered the destruction of documents used to justify $4.7 million in health grants has raised questions about the potential legal repercussions.
The Office of the Attorney General is investigating the allegations at the CDC. Destroying public documents is a Class D crime, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine.
Earlier this year Jon Andrews, a former hazardous waste specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, admitted to throwing out more than two years’ worth of cleanup records when he retired from his post. The prosecutor described Andrews as a disgruntled employee who tossed records of about 265 oil spill reports he handled.
The criminal case against Andrews was dismissed, but as part of the disposition of it, he made a $3,500 donation to the Maine Coastal & Inland Surface Oil Cleanup.
The Office of the Attorney General has not commented on the CDC case yet, or indicated when it will complete its investigation.
Erick Bennett, the candidate who recently announced he plans to challenge U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in the 2014 Republican primary, appears to be getting zero support from the Republican Party establishment.
That won’t shock many people, since Bennett has a well documented history of problems, including an assault conviction involving his ex-wife.
Kennebec Journal reporter Mike Shepherd uncovered a few more reasons Republicans may be shunning Bennett. Shepherd found some head-turning posts on Bennett’s Facebook page, including one with a link to a story about New York City confiscating guns. The candidate claimed such a scenario could happen in Maine because its congressional delegation is “useless.” Bennett went on to say U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, couldn’t be trusted because he is a “closet (slur for gay).”
In a Dec. 7 post, Bennett called recently deceased Nelson Mandela “a communist terrorist” and likened the former South African leader to Josef Stalin, the former Soviet dictator who slaughtered and imprisoned his own people.
Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, tweeted this response to Shepherd’s findings: “Unacceptable. Those words are his alone. Those words do not represent decent, hard-working Maine Republicans.”
Democratic state Rep. Brian Bolduc of Auburn got himself into hot water for his error-ridden email rant to Auburn police about noisy trucks in his neighborhood. Bolduc didn’t just complain about noisy trucks – he wrote that truck drivers probably don’t have a lot of brains.
Most of the cries of indignation came from Republicans, some of whom called for Bolduc’s resignation. Democrats didn’t defend him, although some wondered where the Republican outrage was when Gov. LePage insulted loggers over the summer when he said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, didn’t have any brains (LePage later apologized to loggers, but not to Jackson).
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, told the Sun Journal he was glad Bolduc retracted his comments. That may be a gracious statement given that earlier this year Bolduc introduced a resolution proposing to amend the Maine Constitution to require that the Senate president and speaker of the House be Maine natives.
Eves was born in California.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: