AUGUSTA — The Government Oversight Committee on Thursday delayed voting on a request to initiate a probe into whether Gov. Paul LePage threatened to withhold funds in 2013 from the World Acadian Congress unless its president stepped down.

Reps. Roland “Danny” Martin of Sinclair and Robert Saucier of Presque Isle sent a letter in July requesting an investigation by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the watchdog agency that reports to the oversight committee. The committee opted not to act on the request or fold it into an ongoing inquiry into LePage’s threat to withhold funds from Good Will-Hinckley, a private school, in Fairfield unless it withdrew its job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said that the committee did not want to delay the Good Will-Hinckley probe by adding the World Acadian Congress inquiry. OPEGA’s initial results of the Good Will-Hinckley inquiry are due in early September.

“OPEGA staff is almost done with its review of the Good Will-Hinckley situation and we’ll hear that report on Sept. 8,” said Katz, co-chairman of the oversight committee. “I don’t think there’s any interest in delaying that report we’re about to get to expand it to another issue. We’ll have plenty of time later to think about whether this separate issue is worthy of a review itself.”

Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, co-chairman of the committee, also suggested that the committee needed more information to determine whether a probe into the World Acadian Congress issue was justified.

Reps. Martin and Saucier sent a letter July 28 requesting the investigation. Their letter details allegations in a blog post by a liberal activist for the Maine People’s Alliance that LePage said he would withhold $500,000 in state funding for the 2014 World Acadian Congress unless then-board president Jason Parent stepped down.

The World Acadian Congress is an international festival celebrating Acadian culture that takes place every five years, most recently in 2014 at locations in northern Maine and eastern Canada.

Parent, a well-known and well-regarded civic leader, did resign in April 2013 but made no mention of any threats at that time.

However, the blogger wrote that Parent told him the governor made financial threats to the board, in part because Parent awarded a commemorative license plate to then-U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who at the time was close to announcing he would challenge the Republican governor in the 2014 election.

“This makes the allegation all the more troubling because executive authority and taxpayer money were being used to punish and/or threaten an organization based entirely on electoral concerns,” Martin and Saucier said in their letter to the Government Oversight Committee chairs. “The potential impact on our electoral system and the public’s trust in their government is chilling.”

The Governor’s Office has flatly denied the accusations. George Dumond, co-chairman of the congress, also disputed the report and backed the administration’s response to it.

Parent has refused to verify elements of the activist’s report to the Portland Press Herald and other media outlets.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler

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