Staff members at the Maine Attorney General’s Office have begun conducting interviews in response to a formal complaint that a conservative blogger broke the law when he secretly recorded a conference call among several liberal groups, according to an activist from one of the groups.

Mike Tipping, of the Maine People’s Alliance, said Thursday that attorney general’s representatives have spoken to participants in the Sept. 4 call, which was held to formulate a response to a political ad attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud on immigration issues.

Tipping declined to provide additional details or identify who was contacted.

The alliance, a liberal advocacy group and participant in the call, filed a complaint with the AG’s office that blogger Steve Robinson had violated Maine law when he secretly recorded the call because he was not invited and his presence was unknown. Robinson, a writer for the Maine Wire, the news service of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, later posted the 54-minute recording online.

Tim Feeley, spokesman for the AG’s office, would not confirm Thursday that interviews were taking place but said in an email that the Maine People’s Alliance complaint would be “evaluated in due course.” Feeley said the office had yet to receive in writing a separate complaint about the call from the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which sponsors Robinson’s work.

The center has accused the nonprofits of violating IRS regulations by engaging in electioneering on behalf of Michaud, who is running for governor against incumbent Republican Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.

In addition to Tipping’s group, other participants in the call included representatives of Maine Equal Justice Partners and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Maine Equal Justice Partners staff members have denied doing anything wrong, saying their intent in the call was to consider public education efforts and responses to misinformation in the TV ad attacking Michaud.

The ad was funded by the Republican Governors Association, which is supporting LePage’s re-election bid. It criticizes the Democratic congressman for his position on immigration issues — especially a proposal by LePage to deny general assistance benefits to undocumented immigrants. That proposal has faced stiff opposition from liberal groups, including those who participated in the conference call.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has a stake in immigration policy because it oversees Catholic Charities Maine, which operates a refugee settlement program that works with the State Department. The diocese also works with the Maine Heritage Policy Center on legislative matters.

Suzanne Lafreniere, associate public policy director for the diocese, said Thursday her organization participated in the call because the ad vilified immigrants and portrayed them as criminals. After she learned Robinson had made the recording, she tried to persuade him not to post it online because it would politicize the immigration issue further.

“I told (Robinson) that I knew this was going to get ugly very quickly. We agreed to disagree,” Lefreniere said.

During the conference call, Lafreniere can be heard saying that the diocese had no interest in politicizing the immigration issue.

“If it was a purely political phone call, there’s no way that I would have been on it,” she said in an interview.

Robinson provided the recording to the Bangor Daily News, telling the newspaper he had gotten it from a source. He later admitted that he had taped the discussion.

Matthew Gagnon, the CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center and former director of digital strategy for the Republican Governors Association, told the Portland Press Herald that Robinson wasn’t fabricating a source because Robinson himself was the source and that he was protecting himself.

Tipping and Robinson are both freelance columnists for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Steve Mistler — 791-6345

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler

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