The Portland Press Herald was had.

On Jan. 4, our sister newspaper ran a column by Mark V. Holden, a senior executive for Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries, encouraging Maine lawmakers to ease the number of state licenses required for people in Maine to do their jobs.

This commentary space is normally reserved for Maine writers writing about Maine issues, but, especially around the holidays when things tend to slow down, the paper eases the rules a little and publishes the views of Maine writers on national issues, or out-of-state writers with thoughts on Maine.

We now know that Holden’s commentary was none of those things. With a quick cut-and-paste operation inserting the name “Maine” and “Portland City Hall” in a few blanks, he, or more likely someone who worked for him, submitted a piece that ran in 35 newspapers around the country, with each nearly identical version appearing to be a commentary on an allegedly local need for regulatory reform.

The paper fell for a group pushing a national agenda pretending to be one interested in commenting on something that is happening here.

Newspapers aren’t the only ones who make this mistake, though.

In recent years we have seen corporations like Holden’s employer use the lobbying techniques and the fundraising reach that they developed to effect change in Washington to slip their issues into state law books, just like they got their column into so many newspapers.

State legislative elections are a relatively cheap way to exert the influence of these corporate giants, and post-Citizens United campaign financing rules have put few obstacles in their way. Last-minute out-of-state money has upended the way tight legislative elections are fought in Maine, with hundreds of thousands of dollars being dumped into single state Senate races that used to be contested with only a few thousand. That kind of spending drowns out the voices of people within the district who want to have an influence on the election.

They may look like local races, but they become something else — expressions of multinational corporations looking for a cheap way to make themselves more profitable.

After Election Day, the influence-peddling continues. The industry-supported American Legislative Exchange Council has created a system to recruit friendly lawmakers who move model legislation into state law books as easily as Holden’s column sneaked onto the Press Herald’s opinion page. Instead of devoting themselves to the concerns of people in their districts, legislators are furthering the agenda of multinational corporations, whose interests might be far different from those of the people back home.

The Press Herald’s mistake shows we have to be careful that we do not let groups like this use us. We hope Maine lawmakers and Maine voters do the same.


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