Democrat siblings bookend the transfer of up to $600,000 in public funds
Tension over a controversial multi-million-dollar carbon-trading effort at MaineHousing boiled over Tuesday at the MSHA Board of Commissioners meeting.
Concern over the cost of the project, which Board Chair Peter Anastos has pegged at over $6 million, as well as the viability of a plan that appears predicated on a collapsing carbon market, resulted in a contentious back-and-forth exchange between board members and Director Dale McCormick, shortly before her resignation was publicly revealed.
Information obtained by The Maine Wire now shows that the controversy extends into another quasi-state agency: the Efficiency Maine Trust.
McCormick, as director of MaineHousing, served as an ex officio member of Efficiency Maine’s board. On March 2, 2011, McCormick took the unusual step of recusing herself from her position on the board. According to a source present at the meeting, McCormick stood up, walked to a different seat, then began a plea for Efficiency Maine to contribute $600,000 toward her plan to bundle weatherization heat savings into sellable carbon-offset credits.
The board voted unanimously to authorize up to $600,000 for the project.
Catherine Lee of Lee International, a prolific donor to Democrat political causes, has been working with MaineHousing to develop McCormick’s carbon-trading program. Lee International, which has received more than $370,000 in consulting fees from MaineHousing, gave a presentation about the program at Tuesday’s MSHA board meeting.
Efficiency Maine’s board, which authorized up to $600,000 for the program run by Catherine Lee, is chaired by long-time Democrat benefactor and activist Adam Lee.
Adam Lee is Catherine Lee’s brother.
The Maine Wire asked Adam Lee if he knew his sister was being paid to run MaineHousing’s carbon program when Efficiency Maine authorized the $600,000 transfer.
Lee demanded a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue. When The Maine Wire attempted to set up a direct meeting with Lee to discuss the appearance of a conflict, he responded that he was unavailable until next week.
Adam Lee contacted the MaineWire this afternoon, and in response to the question of whether he knew his sister was being paid to run MaineHousing’s carbon program, Lee said, “Of course I knew, she’s my sister.”
He also noted that he had no connection to her hiring, and believes she was hired solely for her expertise in the field. Lee added that he has no financial connection to Lee International.
The questionable carbon-trading project, reported earlier by The Maine Wire, shows multiple levels of intersection between Efficiency Maine and Maine Housing. Both agencies have been involved in the disbursement of federal weatherization funding, and both agencies have found those efforts the subject of intense scrutiny.
In 2011, Efficiency Maine came under fire for the mismanagement of a large federal weatherization grant through an organization called the Maine Green Energy Alliance (MGEA). Investigations by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, followed by legislative review and an investigation by the Office of Program Efficiency and Government Accountability (OPEGA), showed MGEA had squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars with little result.
The review also found that MGEA had spent a large amount of public money employing Democrat legislators, candidates and operatives—including MGEA’s founder, former Baldacci Administration counsel Tom Federle, who billed over $40,000 in legal fees to the MGEA.
The MGEA was forced to disband and return its leftover funding.
The questions surrounding the Lee family involvement in the two agencies are more in a long list of questions that Republican leaders are seeking answers to. On the heels of the high-profile financial management questions at MaineHousing and the Maine Turnpike Authority, the legislature is now considering a bill that would bring more legislative oversight to Efficiency Maine.
“I don’t know all the details of this $600,000 that went to MaineHousing, but I think it’s just another example, along with the Green Energy Alliance debacle, of why Efficiency Maine needs more accountability and oversight,” said Senator Mike Thibodeau (R- Waldo County), the Senate chair of the Energy and Utilities Committee and the sponsor of the Efficiency Maine accountability bill.
The change in command at Maine Housing portends a deeper probe into the carbon-trading program as well. During Tuesday’s meeting, board members tried in vain to ascertain the potential for recovery of the millions of public dollars spent on the program.
“We’re very concerned about this carbon-trading scheme,” said Peter Anastos, Maine Housing Board chair. “We’re digging into the details now, and hopefully we’ll get some clarity about where all the money has gone soon.”
The legislature will likely consider the Efficiency Maine accountability bill next week.