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Smear Machine: Left-Wing SuperPAC, Portland Press Herald Chase LePage Rumors

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Governor Paul LePage doesn’t drive – he has a state trooper that provides transportation in a state vehicle. That fact hasn’t deterred the Portland Press Herald and a left-wing superPac from chasing down details of a rumored OUI arrest that never occurred.

American Bridge 21st Century, a DC-based liberal superPAC founded by Media Matters president David Brock, has issued a public records request to the Waterville Police Department seeking information about a rumored traffic stop that involved the governor. According to the Waterville Police Department and the Governor’s Office, LePage was not involved in any such stop. Which makes sense, since he doesn’t drive.

In near-perfect synch with the superPAC, Portland Press Herald reporter David Hench called the Governor’s Office to ask if the rumored stop occurred. Hench was told that it had not, and that the governor does not drive himself anywhere. Nevertheless, Hench proceeded also to file a public records request with the Waterville Police Department anyway.

“It is absolutely not true,” said Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey. “We have not made any traffic stops involving the governor as either a driver or a passenger.”

Massey said he has received two requests for information, one from Hench and another from Abraham Payton of the American Bridge 21st Century superPac. Payton requested any records pertaining to Paul R. LePage. But the Portland Press Herald is seeking police communications from February 26 to March 3, which includes 1,566 radio transmissions and 1,336 texts.

“It’s gotten to be a real burden for us,” Massey said. Since the radio transmissions are recorded in real time, the police would have to sit down and listen to 168 hours of radio calls. The system is not designed to fast forward through calls, so if there is 10 minutes of dead time, there is no way to skip it. “It will take us seven days of sitting in front of that audio machine,” Massey said.

In addition, police would have to go through the thousands of calls and texts and censor any communications that contain sensitive or privileged information that could jeopardize other cases and investigations or identify juveniles and witnesses. The texts take up 126 pages. Because of the massive amount of time and energy it would take to process the communications, the Waterville city attorney is working to mitigate the impact of the requests on daily operations.

I threw a guy from the Portland Press Herald out of my office for saying that we were trying to cover something up,” Massey said.

The chief said the “crazy rumor” started when the governor came to Waterville to attend an event. The governor’s detail contacted the Waterville police around 5:30 p.m. on February 29 to inform them that the governor would be in town. The detail told police that it was a low-key event, and no assistance from Waterville Police Department would be needed. It was simply a courtesy call from the detail to the local police.

Massey reiterated that the Waterville police have not stopped Governor LePage as a passenger or a driver, either driving a personal vehicle or a state vehicle. “We would not give anyone a break for drunk driving, whether he was the governor or not,” he said.

So why would the state’s largest paper follow a rumor that was so obviously far-fetched? And why would a left-wing PAC be in Maine making similar records requests?

Phone and email attempts to reach David Hench for comment were unsuccessful.


Trailing GOP with Cameras, Seeking Gaffes

David Brock’s Media Matters and its superPAC American Bridge 21st Century have been waging a war against conservatives in the media and select political figures across the country. Last month, the outrageous tactics of Brock’s groups were revealed through a leaked memo, describing its efforts to delegitimize Fox News:

“We must take Fox News head-on in a well funded, presidential-style campaign to discredit and embarrass the network, making it illegitimate in the eyes of news consumers.”
“We should hire private investigators to look into the personal lives of Fox News anchors, hosts, reporters, prominent contributors, senior network and corporate staff”
The memo goes on to suggest new and unusual ways to harass Fox News: “detailed opposition research” on the network’s staff and executives, attacks against Fox News employees on Facebook and other social media, mailing anti-Fox News literature to their homes and placing “yard signs and outdoor advertising in their neighborhoods.”

Media Matters created their superPAC as a way to extend similar attacks against conservative political figures. The American Bridge 21st Century PAC was described in an article in the New York Times titled “Trailing GOP with Cameras, Seeking Gaffes”, as “a new Democratic organization that aims to record every handshake, every utterance by Republican candidates in 2011 and 2012, looking for gotcha moments that could derail political ambitions or provide fodder for television advertisements by liberal groups next year.”

Roll Call reported on the close ties of the PAC with Democrat party strategy:
“American Bridge 21st Century, the super PAC that grew out of David Brock’s media watchdog of the left, has become the opposition research hub of the Democratic fundraising apparatus, following Republican candidates on the trail, rooting around their closets for skeletons and furiously pumping out snarky Web videos. “

Having a superPAC chase a Republican governor around is not very surprising, though it would be a little rougher beanbag than Maine is used to. What is surprising is that the state’s largest newspaper would be following the same trail.


Collusion?

Besides casting doubt on the common sense of the PPH’s assignment editors, the paper’s synchronicity with a left-wing PAC’s efforts also brings questions of political collusion into the mix. It would be hard to imagine the level of coincidence that would inspire the same public records request of the Waterville Police Department from both entities. This leads to the obvious question – is the Portland Press Herald working with a left-wing political group to take out Paul LePage?

The Maine Wire’s email request for information from Abraham Payton at American Bridge 21st Century went unanswered. A phone call to Payton in the Washington, D.C. area code was answered by a man who did not identify himself. He said Payton was unavailable. When The Maine Wire asked the man for the name of the office he was in, the man said, “Thank you very much,” and quickly hung up the phone.

So is there a tie between the Portland Press Herald and this attack PAC?

Enter Sussman

Enter Maine’s most prolific left-wing benefactor – S. Donald Sussman.

Many already know that Sussman, the hedge-fund billionaire husband of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, recently invested $4 million into the ailing Portland Press Herald, in exchange for an ownership share and a seat on the board of directors.

What many don’t know is that Sussman’s prolific political donations also tie him to the PAC in question.

The Democracy Alliance

Donald Sussman is a board member of the Democracy Alliance, a left-wing political organization that has been the source of major financial support of a variety of progressive causes.

Democracy Alliance donors are asked to pledge $200,000 a year for five years to advance their political agenda. It is not clear how much Sussman has given to the organization.

The Democracy Alliance was a significant founding funder of Media Matters, a left-wing attack apparatus that postures as a non-partisan media watchdog. As of this year, the Democracy Alliance was still a major funder of Media Matters.

A series of reports on the conservative website DailyCaller.com exposed a number of unsavory practices and embarrassing behind-the-scenes details of the organization and its head, David Brock. Brock is the head of the American Bridge 21st Century PAC, and staffed the PAC with Media Matters employees.

To break it down:

  • Sussman donates to Democracy Alliance,
  • Democracy Alliance funds Media Matters,
  • Media Matters controls the American Bridge 21st Century PAC.

And now, Sussman’s latest investment, the Portland Press Herald, is coincidentally working on the same story as the PAC, based on a false rumor.

Advancing the Narrative

The Portland Press Herald’s fruitless investigations have failed, but the paper continues to follow a very Media Matters-esque effort to advance the narrative of LePage as an alcoholic. As recently as last week, the Press Herald’s prized columnist Bill Nemitz broached the subject in another angry tirade against the governor:
“And I’m sure you’d much rather pour yourself a stiff drink right about now than answer any more questions from the media, the Legislature or anyone else who doesn’t see the world quite the way you do.”

Nemitz didn’t drop this little zinger casually. This was a column about the DHHS computer system, but Nemitz, known for his usual sob-sister columns, took the opportunity to further advance a delegitimizing narrative based on a false rumor.

Ties that Blind

The revelations of the Press Herald’s investigative escapades reveal an increasingly sordid reality at the state’s largest newspaper chain. The billionaire husband of a left-wing congresswoman buys a newspaper, funds a left-wing attack PAC, and joins the two together to smear a Republican governor.

While the self-labeled ‘progressive’ editors and reporters at the Press Herald may be comfortable with their efforts, not everyone appreciates their work. Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, responded by email:

“It’s time Maine Today Media (MTM) stop trying to smear the Governor’s name by creating rumors that are completely erroneous. Governor LePage has not driven a car since January 4, 2011. At all times, Executive Protection Unit members from the Maine State Police are with the Governor and drive the Governor to and from places. To accuse the Governor of driving while intoxicated is a fallacious story that editors are eager to plaster on the front page.

“This Administration does not discourage the freedom of access to information. However, when David Hench of the Portland Press Herald asked me if the Governor had been pulled over while driving and my response was no, the answer appears to have not been enough for him. Instead, MTM pushed on, filing a freedom of information request with the Office of the Governor and Waterville Police.”

The administration is clearly not pleased with the rumor-chasing habits of the state’s largest newspaper chain. Governor LePage also commented directly, and put a finer point on the issue:

“MaineToday Media is substituting objective reporting with poor reporting habits of the likes of the National Enquirer – there is a difference and MaineToday Media apparently is blind to that fact.”

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson the editor of The Maine Wire. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College.

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