AUGUSTA — The Maine Republican Party denied Friday that it has anything to do with the secretive Maine Examiner.

Despite online evidence that the party’s executive director had ties to the website that helped torpedo Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin’s campaign in December, the party said the Examiner “was not created or operated by, or in consultation with, the Maine Republican Party.”

It also said the Examiner “is not an asset of the Maine Republican Party, and the Maine Republican Party has not funded it.”

The party also dismissed allegations by the Maine Democratic Party that it had failed to obey campaign finance laws by hiding spending meant to bolster Republican mayoral candidate Shane Bouchard’s successful bid to become Lewiston’s mayor.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices plans to consider a complaint filed by the state Democrats against the Republicans and the Examiner.

The ethics panel is scheduled to consider the case at its Feb. 22 meeting. It may make a decision then about whether to pursue an investigation into the claim that the Republicans violated the law by failing to disclose ties to the Examiner.

“We are pleased that the Maine ethics commission has moved in such an expeditious manner and that it plans to conduct an initial review of what we believe to be a strong case,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said Friday in a prepared statement.

He said the Republican denial is just “smoke and mirrors” and that “it seems like the Maine Republican Party is either confused or once again trying to mislead” in its response to the complaint.

“The fundamental issue here is that digital fingerprints clearly tie the Maine GOP’s executive director directly to the Maine Examiner website – and their failure to report the Maine Examiner’s misleading and propagandist stories as expenditures is what we believe violates campaign finance reporting laws,” Bartlett said.

He said Jason Savage, the Maine Republican Party’s executive director, “chose to conceal his identity” on the Examiner’s website “in order to peddle misleading information meant to deceive people and achieve the party’s political goals.”

“We look forward to the ethics commission’s consideration of our complaint because the Republican Party’s defense just isn’t stacking up,” Bartlett said.

But the Republicans’ state chairwoman, Demi Kouzounas, issued a statement late Friday dismissing the Democratic complaint as “completely meritless.”

The account by the Republicans, though, did not address how Savage’s name wound up as the author of at least seven photographs on the Examiner’s website or why his name appears on the Examiner’s online error log as the person who holds its hosting account.

The Examiner, which routinely publishes stories that target Democrats, has yet to divulge anything about its ownership or who operates it. It carries no bylines and isn’t listed as a Maine business with the secretary of state. Nor has it said what, if any, role Savage may have with it.

Kouzounas sidestepped the issues involving the Examiner and instead sought to undermine Democratic claims that the Republicans failed to report spending properly.

She said her party “filed all independent expenditures with the appropriate authority on time and in appropriate order.”

Kouzounas said the Democrats “apparently did not check with the Lewiston city clerk, who is the appropriate authority on this matter, on our timely and complete filing there.”

She said the party’s municipal filing showed all of its expenditures on the race, including $889.42 spent on Facebook ads in the days before the Dec. 12 mayoral runoff that opposed Chin. Democrats suggested the ads were used to share Examiner pieces targeting Chin.

Kouzounas said the party reported the same expenditures to the ethics commission but couldn’t designate them as “support” or “oppose” spending because the commission’s online portal didn’t provide a way to categorize the money used for a municipal campaign.

Kouzounas said the Democratic complaint was filed “without proper due diligence and with either a misunderstanding, or misrepresentation, of the circumstances, the law and the reporting process for this election and the Maine ethics commission’s filing system.”

“Sadly, it appears the Maine media ended up reporting on a completely meritless complaint,” she said, and created a “fake news firestorm (that) has led to the reputation of our party and staff being smeared in media reports across the state based on absolute falsehoods.”

Democrats said, though, they’re not backing down from their charges and insisted the Maine Republican Party hasn’t come clean.

Bartlett said Friday that the Republicans “acted in an unethical, dishonest and downright deceitful way, and the people of Maine deserve an explanation.”

Steve Collins can be contacted at:

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