PORTLAND — Email messages among state officials, representatives of the Maine Heritage Policy Center and others are proof of a “witch hunt” targeting the then-head of the Maine State Housing Authority, according to the political organization Maine’s Majority.

Chris Korzen, executive director of Maine’s Majority, said his organization sought the emails of Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and MSHA Board Chairman Peter Anastos through a Freedom of Access Act request because of evidence of possible collusion between government officials and the conservative think tank in their intense criticism of Dale McCormick. Maine’s Majority this week released 18 email threads that include communications about information provided to officials from the think tank, media strategy, possible candidates for the housing authority board and information provided to officials from the think tank.

Korzen, whose organization describes itself as representing the 61 percent of voters who did not support Gov. Paul LePage in the 2010 election, said the emails document an inappropriate collaboration between the officials and an outside interest group.

“Look, this is Maine Heritage Policy Center’s job. That’s what their big donors pay them for,” he said. “The question is to what extent are state officials allowing them to influence the process? They’re supposed to be working for the people, right?”

Poliquin said his criticism of McCormick, who resigned in March, was not about politics or personality, but about the wise use of limited tax dollars.

“There is nothing improper or inappropriate in how we exposed the wasteful spending at MSHA. (Maine’s Majority) is a very partisan political group and I’m sure they’re uncomfortable that for the first time in 30 years, we’re holding public officials accountable for wasting taxpayer money,” Poliquin said.

The release of the emails came on the eve of the state Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability’s report on the housing authority. The report concluded that while most of the expenses it examined were connected to the authority’s mission, some might be unnecessary and should be reviewed.

An email from Lance Dutson, chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, to Poliquin and Anastos flags housing authority contributions to some “ridiculous” groups, including an arts organization that facilitates theater workshops for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and received $6,200 in 2009 and $6,800 in 2011.

“Do you know if it’s legal for MSHA to be donating money to these groups. It kind of blows me away that they could contribute to anything,” Anastos replied. “In all seriousness, I would be all over them if they were donating to Maine Heritage.”

Another message from Sam Adolphsen, a writer for The Maine Wire, a political blog of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, provides Anastos a list of hotel vendors to the housing authority.

In one email, Poliquin discusses changes he has made to an opinion piece by Anastos and suggests that Anastos “run it by Lance.” In another, about a report on units failing inspection, Poliquin asks Dutson to provide “exec summary of even bullet points” to show that the authority did not solve the problem after knowing about it for two years and “other ways to demonstrate incompetence.”

Dutson said his organization has always been interested in getting to the bottom of expenditures, not just in the case of McCormick and the housing authority. He said the center will continue to interact with all kinds of government agencies and personnel, just as other advocacy groups do.

Dutson said it shouldn’t be shocking that his organization is involved in state government. He noted that his predecessor, Tarren Bragdon, ran LePage’s transition team, and that Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen was the organization’s former education policy director.

“What I think you have here is a lot of nasty adjectives and adverbs around zero substance,” Dutson said of the allegations of Maine’s Majority.

Anastos said he shared the common interest of solving spending problems with the Maine Heritage Policy Center and that the organization had information through Freedom of Access Act requests that authority board members were not able to get themselves. That included information about the inspections and a list of conferences authority staff attended — 42 in locales including Denmark and Japan over five years, Anastos said.

“I know it sounds crazy that they (MHPC) had more facts than the board, but that’s absolutely what happened,” he said.

Anastos does not contend that fraud took place at the agency, but he believes it misused some funds, lost focus and allowed costs to escalate.

In one email thread, Laura Santini-Smith of the state Department of Economic and Community Development offers to connect Poliquin with former state Sen. Phil Harriman, who is on a radio show on WGAN, and Dutson. She advises Poliquin to seek national conservative media coverage.

“Going national should help boot Dale out,” she wrote.

A couple of the email threads discuss possible authority board members. One from Poliquin to Mike Hersey, the governor’s director of boards and commissions, describes one candidate, board member Donald Capoldo, as a “big GOP activist and true conservative” and “huge” LePage supporter.

“With this support, the new administration will have 5 of 9 votes,” Poliquin wrote.

In another regarding the need to include someone who lives in subsidized housing, Mary Adams, an anti-tax activist, writes to Anastos of a woman she knows who is a Republican and “a good conservative.”

Korzen criticized those threads as demonstrating the importance of partisanship on the board.


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