AUGUSTA — Former gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli gave her blessing to the opposition research effort that became “The Cutler Files,” a website that published critical information about rival candidate Eliot Cutler, according to court documents filed Wednesday by an attorney for Cutler.

Depositions of Scarcelli, her husband and her chief political adviser and excerpts from their email conversations provide an inside look at the political maneuvering during the 2010 election. The documents also prove that the website was the work of Scarcelli’s political campaign and should have been the subject of disclosure statements and campaign finance reports, according to arguments filed by Cutler’s attorney.

“The record establishes beyond dispute that The Cutler Files was not a ‘news story, commentary or editorial,’ but was a negative campaign advertisement with no other reasonable interpretation than advocating the defeat of Eliot Cutler,” the filings say.

The documents cite several emails by Scarcelli referring to her desire to go after Cutler’s reputation. “I feel we need to dislodge him (Cutler) before he develops root. I think it’s highly important to start a blog campaign about him,” she wrote in a November 2009 email, for example.

Scarcelli was running then for the Democratic nomination, which she lost. Cutler was an independent candidate and narrowly lost to Paul LePage in the general election.

Scarcelli consistently has denied being involved with the creation of The Cutler Files and has said she was disappointed to learn her husband and her chief political adviser were behind the effort. The former candidate stuck by those statements on Wednesday.

Scarcelli said the court filings take references to routine opposition research and other lighthearted email conversations out of context to support a theory that she was out to get Cutler, even after losing the primary election.

“The accusations are completely false. They are not true,” Scarcelli said. “The opposition research (she knew about) is absolutely completely different from The Cutler Files.”

In all, hundreds of pages of documents were filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland. The documents are intended to support a motion by Cutler’s attorneys to dismiss a lawsuit by Dennis Bailey, Scarcelli’s former adviser and the primary author of The Cutler Files.

Bailey is appealing to the court to overturn a $200 fine imposed on him by the Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices. The commission said Bailey should have included a campaign disclaimer on “The Cutler Files” website telling potential voters who paid for the site.

Bailey’s attorneys are expected to file their own arguments in court today, saying the website was anonymous speech protected by the First Amendment.

“The ethics commission found that this was not done as part of a campaign. It was done by Mr. Bailey on his own,” said Zach Heiden, an attorney with the Maine Civil Liberties Union who is defending Bailey in the case. Efforts to tie Scarcelli to the research or the website are not relevant to the legal issue, he said.

“We disagreed on the way they interpreted the law,” he said. “We think as a matter of First Amendment law that news on the Internet should be treated the same way it is in newspapers or on the radio or on television.”

Bailey could not be reached Wednesday.

The state ethics commission also is expected to file arguments in court today defending the fine. It collaborated with Cutler’s attorney on a joint statement of facts filed Wednesday.

The documents show that Scarcelli and her team conducted opposition research on Cutler in 2009 to present to the Democratic Governors Association. Her campaign wanted to make the case that Scarcelli was the best Democratic candidate and that Cutler would be a threat in the general election.

She made the email reference to starting a blog campaign about Cutler that November.

Her husband, Rhoads, had begun assembling a three-ring binder of information about Cutler. Much of it was gleaned from Web research, although he also paid for Democratic voting records that showed Cutler and his wife had voted by absentee ballot several times while claiming to live in Maine, the documents say.

When Scarcelli lost the primary in June 2010, she contacted the Democratic nominee, Libby Mitchell, and offered her the book for $30,000, according to Scarcelli’s deposition testimony.

“I told Libby that Thom had pulled together some documents and that — in a binder, a book — and that we needed to pay down some debt,” Scarcelli said in her deposition.

Mitchell declined. Rhoads and Bailey, who was working then for independent candidate Shawn Moody, started discussing an anonymous website, which became The Cutler Files.

Scarcelli has maintained that she did not know about the plan and was not involved. In July 2010, however, she responded to an email from Bailey about Cutler.

“Perfect. This is why we need to start blogging all the goods. We need to liven this party up,” Scarcelli wrote.

Another email from Bailey to Rhoads in July 2010 said, “As Rosa predicted, Libby (Mitchell) will be third. We can get Moody in the 7 to 8 percent range and Cutler will be toast.”

Another email string between Bailey and Scarcelli talked about a prayer circle to help LePage beat Cutler. “That was a joke,” she said Wednesday.

The Cutler Files was posted during the last months of the campaign, and Bailey and Rhoads did not admit involvement until well after the election. That led to the ethics commission investigation and the fine against Bailey.

Scarcelli said Wednesday the court filings are based on comments she made about routine opposition research that was done early in the campaign.

“My campaign pointed out some weaknesses that they thought were important to highlight,” she said. “I can absolutely guarantee you that every campaign did opposition research.”

She said her email references to blogging referred to posting anonymous comments on newspaper websites or existing blogs, not creating a blog or a website.

“None of this (The Cutler Files) had anything to do with my campaign, and I have testified under oath to that,” she said.

John Richardson — 620-7016

[email protected]

 


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