Editorial: Maine media's alternate universe

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Sometimes, reading the Maine newspapers is like being transported into an alternate universe.

This weekend was a great example. After the Government Oversight (OPEGA) report confirmed that Maine State Housing Authority had spent over $400,000 on contributions and donations and more than $44,000 on “staff celebrations”, that former director Dale McCormick had personally been reimbursed for over $50,000 in travel costs and that she was reimbursed for nearly $10,000 of non-business meal expenses, Maine newspapers quickly conjured up a far different picture.

Here are a few headlines:

  • Bangor Daily News: “Watchdog agency finds no wrongdoing at MaineHousing after months of furor”
  • Portland Press Herald: “Housing authority probe finds no fraud”
  • MPBN: “MaineHousing Review Finds no Evidence of Wrongdoing”

That’s the spin from the Maine media. Now here are the facts:

OPEGA found that at least $458,410 was spent between 2007 and 2011 on “contributions specifically for sponsorships, donations, and membership.”

The report found that former director McCormick incurred at least $50,000 in reimbursements for travel and meals in just five years. That total included at least 40 out-of-state trips and two international trips.

In all, 62 MaineHousing staff members attended 89 conferences in just five years between 2007 and 2011. The total cost exceeded $115,000.

The report also stated that receipts for travel, meals and lodging were not always provided, leaving the door open for fraud.

McCormick spent, or was reimbursed for $9,625 in meals that took place when she was not travelling and when no business purpose was documented.

MaineHousing spent $309,400 on “teambuilding, recognition and appreciation, and wellness incentives,”according to the report. This total includes more than $70,000 in gift cards, awards, gift, flowers and coffee. Another $106,000 was for staff training including “leadership” and “diversity training.”

Staff “celebrations” costs taxpayers a total of more than $44,000 in just the five years OPEGA looked at. OPEGA questioned the practice, noting that, “the frequency with which these expenses were incurred cause us to question whether they were all truly necessary.”

The OPEGA report also highlights a purchase of $17,412 for artwork for the MaineHousing offices. The art was purchased from Greenhut Galleries, in Portland. Greenhut Galleries is owned by Peggy Greenhut Golden, who previously worked as the head of the Maine Art Commission under former Governor Angus King.

Also of concern to OPEGA was $3,500 in bonuses given to vendors. Also, former director Dale McCormick used MaineHousing funds to pay for consultants to accompany her to conferences associated with MaineHousing’s “carbon project.” The OPEGA report does not give details, but does highlight a 2008 conference when McCormick was reimbursed $3,245, some of which covered the cost of a consultant attending the New York carbon conference.

To read more about the OPEGA report findings, click here.

Now, let’s read that headline again: “Watchdog agency finds no wrongdoing at MaineHousing”

It’s hard to tell what the Bangor Daily News would regard as ‘wrongdoing’, but wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on travel and meals that have nothing to do with the function of the agency comes pretty close to ‘wrongdoing’ in my book.

In fact, the OPEGA report doesn’t even get into the potential millions in wasted money on failed carbon-trading schemes. All this, while 6,500 families sit on a waiting list for affordable housing, and hundreds of Maine families go without heating assistance.

Earlier this year, former Maine Housing Director Dale McCormick said “People will die” because Maine Housing lacked enough funds to provide heating assistance to those who need it. The average LIHEAP recipient in Maine receives roughly $800 a year for heating assistance.

This small sample from OPEGA shows McCormick chose to spend well over $1 million on non-essential travel, meals, staff celebrations, bonuses, gift cards, and other items – every dollar of which could have gone to help poor Mainers heat their homes.

That’s more than 1,000 Maine families that did without heating assistance because McCormick chose to do business this way.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Those in the media that try to portray this report as somehow positive for the previous management of Maine Housing are simply living in a different reality, and the more details that emerge, the more evident it will become how truly out-of-touch Maine’s newspapers have become.

One exception to this was the Lewiston Sun Journal. Editor Judy Meyer today wrote a fair piece about the report, pointing out the limited nature of the OPEGA inquiry, and rightly noting that expenditures at Maine Housing were out of order. We don’t always agree with the Sun Journal editorial board, but it’s a relief to see that at least one of Maine’s daily papers refuses to drink the left-wing Kool-Aid.

1 COMMENT

  1. I read CNN, Fox News, PPH, and the Drudge Report online each day. Every outlet has a slant, some are more blatant than others. 
    However, the worst national news radio coverage is PBN!

  2.  What does it say about Maine that 100% of its  primary news sources are nothing more than Liberal propaganda organs who print only articles and editorials favorable to the Liberal/Marxist left.  Thank God for sites like the Maine Wire.

  3. While attending a sporting event in Yarmouth last Saturday, someone had a copy of the PPH next to them and I noticed the headline. I quickly turned to my wife, pointed it out to her, and commented that the Maine Wire will certainly be commenting about this blatant example of slanted journalism. I don’t waste my money on the PPH, so I don’t know if anyone wrote a letter to the paper to comment on their bogus reporting. Then again, it wouldn’t get printed anyway.

  4. While attending a sporting event in Yarmouth last Saturday, someone had a copy of the PPH next to them and I noticed the headline. I quickly turned to my wife, pointed it out to her, and commented that the Maine Wire will certainly be commenting about this blatant example of slanted journalism. I don’t waste my money on the PPH, so I don’t know if anyone wrote a letter to the paper to comment on their bogus reporting. Then again, it wouldn’t get printed anyway.

  5. I gave up the PPH back in Feb. and donate the money to Maine Heritage Policy Center monthly.
    I can’t WAIT to read The Maine Wire every morning to see what they’ve uncovered!

  6. Thanks for this piece.  Just the donations alone are out of line.  Organizations like the “Maine Womens’ Fund or Women’s Lobby” are shills for the Democrats.  You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside of the old D Augusta self-congratulation club in these groups.

    Re media bias–perhaps I’ve missed Maine coverage, but I read the WSJ article the other day (“Obamacare in Reverse”:

    Maine deregulates the insurance market. Premiums fall”) on the vastly improving picture for insurance coverage (62% drop in cost for many Mainers)  as a result of LePage’s reforms, undoing the damage caused by the  Ds, particularly the despotic Trish Riley and her cabal, who forced a model even worse than ObamaCare  on us.

    We should be used to this by now, but the bias of Maine “MSM” coverage is surreal.

  7. The “Free Press” is just defending any opportunity available, to protect their liberal friends in government, from even a hint of problems. Amazing. Such headlines, obviously send the reader onto something else to their liking, rather than grab the attention of readers. However, don’t expect anything more from what we have for newspapers in Maine, and the rest of America. Excellent job Maine Wire of keeping this story in the forefront.

  8. The WIRE is to be commended for their effort to bring a tad of journalistic balance to the Maine news groups. 

    Mainers deserve a real news media  not the overly liberal bias spin we are flooded with each day by PPH and BDN.  Why bother reading these fish wraps, one can almost predict the articles before they are printed.  Obamer is our savior, homosexual marriage is good for our schools and kids and liberal spending is what Maine needs.  All wrong for Maine and history bears this out.

    On any given day we see the cherry picked DNC approved stroies. We are forced to endure the drone of the inept liberals  via the likes of sussman’s nimitz.  Any more fluff support articles for sussman’s puppet congressperson will cause mass nausia.  

  9. The liberals have been in charge of Maine government for 35 years and during that time have set all the rules of conduct for all good liberals to follow. Fast forward to a sane, responsible government, look at the rules and say…THIS IS CRAZY…but….there was no fraud because the rules they made said, ” We allow ourselves to spend all the tax payers’ money we can lay our hands on and spend it on anything that we get a whim for.” Under responsible leadership it is a crime from beginning to end.
    Manson said his crew committed no crimes because the rich had it coming.  Maybe Dale was only following orders.

  10. Here is what OPEGA said in the summary of their report, which the MaineWire refuses to print (again):

    OPEGA judged substantially all of the $4.3 million sampled
    MaineHousing expenses to be generally consistent with its mission and primary activities. All the expenses appeared business related and we found no indications of fraud. Those expenditures we noted as having an indirect or unclear connection to mission and activities, even after receiving MaineHousing’s explanations, were related to certain sponsorships, organizational memberships, and conferences attended by MaineHousing staff. We also found nearly all the dollar amounts associated with individual expenditures to be reasonable when broken down in detail, regardless of whether one was using a private entity or a State agency as a benchmark.
    (bolding mine)

    Of the memberships that MaineWire finds fault, two (the National Council of State Housing Agencies $127,000 and the Northern New England Housing Investment Fund $125,000) accounted for 75% of the total of $330,000 spent over the five years reviewed.

    MaineWire likes to pretend it is an unbiased source, but it is simply a propaganda arm of the MHPC, presenting only data that supports its mission. But don’t take my word for it – read OPEGA’s report yourself:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/94803775/OPEGA-Report-on-MSHA-Expenditures

  11. The irony here is that you have carefully selected a miniscule section of the summary of the OPEGA report “presenting only data that supports its (in this case your) mission.  Viewed in its entirety, the report clearly indicates that although “no fraud was found” a significant amount of money was spent on activities that the report deemed “questionable” in relation to their appropriateness of the mission of the MSHA.  Also important is that the OPEGA investigation is admittedly brief and selective.  Not to mention that Ms. McCormick rather hastily decided not to stay in her position and categorically explain or refute the findings.  And yes, I have read the report.  

  12.  Like most Mainers not many of us purchase  the Portland paper any longer.  The bias in their news coverage  is almost comical in it’s extreme.
     
    Can these liberal journals continue to stay financially viable if they are not reaching the Mainers outside of the lib-central bubble?  With Sussman’s well lined out of state pockets and his being connected to the likes of Barney Frank  and similar ilk, we can at least expect the paper to survive the election cycle.  How else can sussamn parrot the liberal lines on homosexual sodomy  marriage,  support his pet congressperson and sing the praises of the worst president in our recent history.
     
    As a tactical suggestion,  I would reach out to advertisers that use these rags and directly express displeasure at seeing their  product or service being  displayed next to favorable liberal puff pieces.  The food chain is advertising, reach the advertisers and you will get their attention.  The only paper surviving in the electronic format is the NYT and it cost them multiple millions to develop a thin paying client base. Not likley any Maine papers can duplicate that success.   

  13. I am sure the defenders of the BDN, etc will justify this as business
    as usual in the government bureaucracy. I work for the feds and this type of expenditure is common. (It is also criminal) 

  14. This is where you juxtapose, sitting on the edge of your media photo above: the images of 3 trained monkeys–eyes covered, ears covered, mouth hushed… & throw in the Organ Grinder for good measure.

  15. PPH and other similar publications continue to discredit themselves.  It will be gratifying to see Mr. Pingree’s new toy wither on the vine.  Here’s what I do personally to help that process along;   Yes, I dropped my subscription long ago.  I do, however check PPH printed and online from time to time just to know who supports them by their advertising dollars.  And then; 1. I try not to do business with those who advertise there and 2. Where possible, I let those businesses know they probably won’t get me back while they are supporting Maine’s version of Pravda.  (just a footnote; Pravda was classic “Newspeak” in Russian for Truth and Justice!)

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