A group that conducted a petition drive opposing a proposed 145-mile transmission line through rural Maine is criticizing Central Maine Power Co. for hiring a private investigator to track a female petitioner’s whereabouts and social media posts as she did her work.

But Clean Energy Matters, a political action committee funded by CMP, said it hired the private investigator because it wanted to expose what it says was “illegal and unethical activity” by the woman and eight other petition gatherers for No CMP Corridor – a group opposed to the transmission line. Clean Energy Matters contends its investigator did not specifically target the woman.

Sandi Howard, a spokeswoman for No CMP Corridor, issued a statement Thursday calling on newly appointed CMP Executive Chairman David Flanagan to stop having investigators follow petition-drive workers, and to halt and renounce what she called an “outrageous intimidation campaign.”

“This is a shocking and frightening revelation. Our team is rattled by this, and we’re exploring a number of options to ensure the safety of our volunteers and organizers going forward,” Howard said.

The headline on Howard’s news release states, “CMP hired private investigator to stalk corridor opponents. Stakeouts, secret photos, and vehicle tracking used to intimidate project opponents.”

Clean Energy Matters filed an affidavit with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office last month contending that “in addition to her work organizing, supervising and otherwise assisting in the petition gathering effort for the Opponents, documents in your possession will show that (the woman, whose name was redacted from the affidavit) also notarized hundreds, and possibly thousands, of petitions.”

“Maine Election law is eminently clear that persons who notarize petitions for a citizen’s initiative cannot provide any other services … to get that initiative on the ballot,” the affidavit said.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, confirmed Thursday that Clean Energy Matters filed the affidavit with the state on Feb. 27, just five days before the secretary of state announced that No CMP Corridor had collected 69,714 valid signatures, or roughly 6,647 more than it needed for the citizen initiative question to be presented to the Legislature for action.

The Legislature will decide whether to send the question to voters in November. If approved by voters, the measure would order the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reverse its finding that the 145-mile transmission line is in the state’s best interests. Should that happen, legal experts say, the fight would likely end up in court.

The Secretary of State’s Office says Clean Energy Matters waited too long to bring the alleged signature-gathering violations to the state’s attention, according to a footnote attached to the press release Wednesday announcing that opponents had collected enough valid signatures. The office did not offer an opinion on the legality of the petitioners’ actions.

“On Feb. 24, and Feb. 27, our office received information from opponents of this initiative suggesting that certain commissioned notaries who administered the oath to circulators of petitions for the citizen initiative may have performed other services to initiate or promote the petition, in violation of (state laws). This office did not have sufficient time, however, to investigate this matter prior to the statutory deadline for issuing this decision and thus makes no finding regarding the allegations,” the footnote states.

Clean Energy Matters contends that hiring a private investigator to keep tabs on the activities of an opponent in such a campaign is a common practice. Campaign Director Jon Breed accused Howard of attempting to divert public attention from her group’s alleged law-breaking by using “CMP as the boogie man.”

“Our campaign is run like any other campaign in Maine, and that includes an active opposition research program,” Breed said in a statement Thursday evening. “The opposition research we conducted in the field is standard operating procedure and is part of every modern day campaign. What our researchers found were clear violations of the law by the opposition – laws that were broken out in the open, in view of the public.”

Breed said Clean Energy Matters became concerned after it learned that transmission corridor opponents hired Revolution Field Strategies to help collect signatures. Revolution Field Strategies is a grassroots organizing and public affairs consulting firm headquartered in Boston, according to its website.

“Presumably, this hire was made because the opponents were not on pace to gather a sufficient number of signatures to meet the Feb. 3 deadline to place the initiative on the ballot for November 2020,” the affidavit states. “Cognizant of the administrative and organizational challenges that exist when an out of state entity manages a petition gathering effort, Clean Energy Matters obtained the services of a professional investigator to review the opponents’ activities.”

Breed said it was unfair for Howard to accuse Clean Energy Matters’ private investigator, Jeffery D. Merrill II, of targeting the female petition gatherer’s activities. Merrill staked out a No CMP Corridor field office at 449 Forest Ave. in Portland from Jan. 28-31, according to the affidavit filed by Clean Energy Matters attorney Newell Augur.

In the affidavit, Merrill said he parked his vehicle in the strip mall parking lot near the Burger King restaurant and observed several people coming and going from the field office, including the woman in question.

Breed said their investigation found that nine individuals were involved in collecting and notarizing signatures, sorting through petitions, and organizing petitions – actions that are not allowed under state law. Breed said the woman cited in the affidavit was merely one of several individuals who engaged in these activities.

Breed left open the possibility of further action by Clean Energy Matters.

“While the Secretary’s office did not have time to investigate this information, as they indicated in their decision, we will further explore these violations over the next 10 days and share the findings with the proper officials,” he said in the statement.

Merrill, in his affidavit, states that after conducting online research, he found the woman’s Facebook page, which “provided a clear image of her face, identifying her as a notary public.”

Howard, of No CMP Corridor, said the investigator went too far.

The affidavit explains in detail “a frightening and aggressive effort to intrude on the personal life of a female opponent of the corridor,” Howard said. Merrill watched the woman as she entered and left the field office, took photos of her, monitored her Facebook page, and dug up personal information that included where she lived, her automobile registration, her occupation, and “even called her employers to gather more information about her,” Howard said.

In her statement, Howard said several other volunteers and corridor opponents reported “suspicious behavior and intimidation tactics at public events,” including another woman who observed a black truck that followed her while she delivered petitions to town offices. The woman was forced to take evasive maneuvers on side streets to evade the truck, according to Howard.

“This is a horrifying new low in Maine politics,” Howard said. “CMP has crossed a red line, hiring people to lurk in parking lots and stalk the personal lives of their critics.”

CMP is proposing to build a 145-mile transmission corridor from the Canadian border to Lewiston, a project that will cost an estimated $1 billion. It would deliver hydroelectric power from Quebec through Maine’s North Woods to customers in Massachusetts.

Opponents say the project would harm the environment solely to transmit power from Canada that wouldn’t benefit Maine customers.

CMP is still waiting for permits for the project from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.