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Portland Phoenix

Portland Mayor: Following the Money

My home city of Portland, Maine is having its first mayoral election in 88 years, the result of a successful ballot referendum and popular disgust with the city council's handling of a proposed development on the Maine State Pier. Fifteen candidates are on the ranked-choice ballot, making it especially difficult for voters to become educated about the would-be mayors.

As regular readers know, I'm a big proponent of following the money in politics, but under current law, mayoral candidates didn't have to file campaign finance disclosures until last Friday evening -- just eleven days before voters go to the polls. (An effort to change this law for future elections has been stalled in Augusta.) Media coverage of the content of those reports has, to date, been focused merely on how much money each candidate raised, rather than from whom these resources came.
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Gov's Favorite Lobbyist is ALEC Co-Chair

The American Legislative Exchange Council is one of the most powerful -- and secretive -- lobbying entities in the country, a channel for corporations to literally write state laws for willing or naive legislators without anyone being any the wiser.

Or at least that was the case until last month, when many of their confidential members-only documents were leaked to the world wide wonderland. Journalists are just starting to dig into the model bills, donor lists, and rolls of participating legislators posted at ALECexposed.org by the Center for Media and Democracy.

But, as I report in tomorrow's Portland Phoenix, a fresh leak has added a new twist for Mainers. It shows that the new state co-chair for Maine is none other than Ann Robinson, the Preti Flaherty superlobbyist and gubernatorial advisor who has been at the center of several stories I've covered this year, including "LePage's Secret Puppeteers" and "The LePage Files."

And for you political insiders out there, here, as a blog-only DVD extra, are the relevant pages from the leaked source document (the agenda of ALEC's August meeting in New Orleans.) [PDF]

(Cross-posted from World Wide Woodard)

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LePage Taps Favorite Lobbyist for MPBN Board

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is no fan of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, which operates Maine's only statewide network of television and radio stations. On the campaign trail he expressed a desire -- on MPBN cameras -- to punch the network's State House correspondent. In office he tried to zero out state funding for the broadcaster.

Now he has his first chance to nominate someone to MPBN's governing board. As I report in the new Portland Phoenix, his first choice is none other than Ann Robinson, the corporate lobbyist who already serves as a trusted advisor and a member of the panel he uses to find judicial nominees.

As readers of this blog well know, Robinson has also overseen the compilation of the governor's regulatory reform agenda -- past and future -- including the cutting-and-pasting of language from industry and corporate memos into the proposals LePage submitted to legislators. That she does this while remaining the registered lobbyist of many interested parties apparently doesn't trouble the governor, whose press secretary has failed to respond to requests for comment on this point.

Robinson isn't alone. Another Preti attorney, Carlisle McLean, serves as LePage's natural resources advisor. Pierce Atwood corporate lobbyist Patricia Aho currently heads the Department of Environmental Protection. But at least McLean and Aho had to give up their day jobs.

(Cross-posted from World Wide Woodard)

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The LePage Files, Volume I

Maine Governor Paul LePage's regulatory reform agenda was created by lifting entire passages from memos received by favored lobbyists and industry groups, confidential administration dossiers reveal, suggesting he and his staff made little attempt to shape policies themselves.

The dossiers, obtained via a Freedom of Access Act request, also indicate some of the governor's priorities going forward, including measures targeting striking workers and Maine's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Who wanted to weaken air quality standards? Who inserted language to reduce all environmental laws to the weaker federal standards? Who wants the same done with civil rights and restaurant tip sharing laws? These answers and many more are in my feature in this week's Portland Phoenix.

I requested the documents back in March, after the governor's then-communications director, Dan Demeritt, refused to answer questions about the origins of controversial elements of the governor's infamous "Phase I" regulatory reform agenda, much of which was subsequently rejected by the Republican-controlled legislature. They provide a detailed look into how LePage formulates policy and whom he sees himself as representing, issues I've written about in two previous Phoenix stories, "LePage's Secret Bankers" and "LePage's Secret Puppeteers."
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Ramming Through Insurance Deregulation

The new Portland Phoenix has my cover story on how Maine Republicans railroaded a massive overhaul of our health insurance regime through the State House, and the political fallout that's followed. The majority party sometimes slams a bill through the system faster than anyone can digest it, but rarely do these bills involve such genuine life-and-death issues as those affected by LD1333.

The Phoenix cover artists even created this insurance lobbyist/devil figure to illustrate the piece. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but you have to admit it's eye-catching.

For the policy wonks out there, I did take the time to photograph the testimony submitted for the original April 27 hearing, back when this was but a four-page bill. The points raised for and against the loosening of restrictions on charging higher premiums based on a customer's location, gender, age, or health status, may still be valid in regards to those components of the new law. You can find it here as a 37-megabyte PDF. (Why the legislature hasn't ordered that all committee testimony be scanned and posted online is beyond me.)

Vermont also overhauled their health insurance system last month. The difference: they're going to a single payer model. Will be interesting to see which approach results in the best outcomes for these respective state's people.

(Cross-posted from World Wide Woodard)

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False Testimony on DeCoster Bill

As I reported a few weeks ago in the Portland Phoenix, the infamous egg magnate Austin "Jack" DeCoster has some friends in the Maine state legislature, which has been considering a law to help out his companies. That initiative may get voted on as early as today.

I have a magazine piece about all this in the forthcoming issue of Down East, but readers won't see that until after the legislature votes on L.D. 1207, an act that will free Mr. DeCoster's companies from the worry that their workers might one day unionize. The Down East article sheds light on the question many have about Mr. DeCoster: how does he keep getting away with it? But there are a couple timely details to report straightaway. Read more »

Republicans for DeCoster, LePage for Creationism

Ever wonder how Jack DeCoster, Maine's infamous egg magnate, has gotten away with it after all these years? One reason is that regardless of what he does -- triggers the largest egg recall in history, gets investigated for cruelty to his birds, gets fined for virtually imprisoning his Latino workers, falsifies trucking records, leaves mounds of dead chickens out in the open and won't bury them until sued -- he always seems to find friends willing to help him out.

Case in point: this week Maine legislators are considering a bill to do DeCoster a favor by depriving his workers of the minimum wage, overtime, and collective bargaining rights. Read the whats, whos, and whys in my piece in the new Portland Phoenix, which dropped today. (Also, check out Steve Mistler's earlier Sun Journal coverage of the bill's hearing.)

And, for your moment of Zen, here's a recent video of Gov. Paul LePage telling a conference of homeschoolers that he favors teaching creationism in Maine's public schools because "knowledge is power."

(Cross-posted from World Wide Wodard)

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Mother Jones on "LePage's Secret Puppeteers"

My recent Portland Phoenix story "LePage's Secret Puppeteers" -- on how Maine Governor Paul LePage outsourced the creation of his regulatory reform package to lobbyists for outside corporations -- has been picked up by Mother Jones, which has been doing a lot of hard-hitting reporting on the national Tea Party movement.

The piece has also made its way into the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Kennebec Journal, and the Portland Press Herald, though the latter paper swiped the article's findings without noting where they came from. Read more »

LePage's Transparent Hypocrisy

My column in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel today is about the LePage administration breaking its promises of transparency, particularly regarding the influence of out-of-state corporations and their lobbyists on proposed environmental rollbacks. It relies heavily on some great investigative journalism done by Colin Woodard and Susan Sharon.

Since I wrote the column, the LePage administration has announced that Carlisle McLean will be joining their team as Senior Policy Advisor. McLean also worked at the law and lobbying firm Preti Flaherty, where, according to current and past reporting from MPBN, she lobbied for the Toy Industry Association against the ban on the toxic chemical bisphenol A. McLean is not listed as having represented the organization in the state lobbying database.

LePage staffers Dan Demeritt and Dan Billings both emailed me today to push back on some of the examples of apparent dishonesty by the administration. Read more »

LePage's Corporate Puppeteers

My latest story in the Portland Phoenix is on how Maine Gov. Paul LePage is outsourcing the writing of his much-touted regulatory reform package to corporate lobbyists. They, not surprisingly, have the interests of their out-of-state corporate clients first in mind, the suffering small businessman: maybe not so much.

MPBN's Susan Sharon beat me into "print" on how the governor's official "Phase 1" regulatory reform document has PretiFlaherty document numbers stamped on it. In this story, the governor's communications director confirms Preti lobbyist's role in the drafting of the regulations, and I show what their clients have gotten out of it so far.

And its not just Preti. Pierce Atwood's managing partner was in on the act, and their clients wishes made the list as well. Will be interesting to see who benefits from "phase two" and beyond.

(Cross-posted from World Wide Woodard)