Efficiency Maine, the quasi-governmental agency that pushes to increase the use of “alternative energy,” has used taxpayer funds to buy advertising on Maine Insights, the ultra-liberal website of Ramona Du Houx that regularly advocates for extreme liberal positions and causes, including many “green” initiatives.
Government agencies are prohibited from using public funds to advertise on partisan political websites.
Efficiency Maine bought the ad to be placed on the Maine Insights website in June 2011, according to executive director Michael Stoddard. He said the ad cost $500 and was slated to run for six months to advertise PACE loans, a type of energy-efficiency loan.
While the ad was supposed to expire, it is still displaying prominently on the Maine Insights website. Maine Insights is without doubt a partisan political website, a fact that Efficiency Maine board member and state Sen. Doug Smith agrees with. “The site is clearly partisan as currently published,” Smith said.
While Stoddard agreed the site is political now, he says that it has emerged as partisan only since the ad was placed a year ago. Stoddard said he was “a little bit uncomfortable with it, since it has taken a different direction than it was headed a year ago when we bought the ad.”
Despite Stoddard’s claims that Maine Insights has only recently emerged as partisan and political, the archived posts on the website tell a different story.
In April 2011, well before the ad was purchased, Du Houx wrote a piece demanding Governor LePage put the infamous “Labor Mural” back up. She also wrote regularly about the benefits of many “green” initiatives that Efficiency Maine operates.
In fact, before Efficiency Maine purchased the ad on the site, Du Houx was already advertising for the organization with her posts. She posted an article on June 8, 2010 titled, “Weatherize your home this summer and get $4,000 in cash back from the state’s Home Energy Savings Program.”
Du Houx also regularly features interviews and profiles of prominent Democrat leaders including Chellie Pingree, Emily Cain, Justin Alfond and Barry Hobbins. She does not publish profiles of Republicans, but criticizes them regularly.
She is the mother of Maine State Rep. Alexander Cornell Du Houx (D–Brunswick), who has been embroiled in recent controversy over whether he should step down because of legal complications stemming from his relationship with another member of the legislature.
Along with regular profiles of Democrats—including many of her son—Du Houx also regularly features “articles” that are blatantly partisan. Many of the articles were published prior to Efficiency Maine purchasing the ad on her site.
Examples of articles from Du Houx, all dated before Efficiency Maine purchased their ad, include:
• “Reckless insurance law bad for Maine” (referring to Republican-led health reform) – May 18, 2011
• “Democrats stand with public in opposition to governor’s new budget proposal” – May 12, 2011
• “Minority leader Rep. Emily Cain on LePage’s plans and how Democrats are fighting back” – April 8, 2011
• “GOP attacks state Reps. for doing the right thing – leading the way to weatherization” – February 18, 2011
• “Gov. LePage’s proposals, if enacted, will irreversible damage Maine’s quality of life” – February 6, 2011
In addition to these articles, Du Houx featured an interview with Efficiency Maine director Michael Stoddard on March 1, 2011, before the advertisement was purchased, titled “Weatherization—a huge economic development plan for Maine.”
Despite the obvious partisan political nature of the website even before the advertisement was purchased, the decision was still made to buy the ad. But it’s unclear who was responsible for the decision to buy the ad.
Stoddard says it wasn’t him. While he was executive director at the time, he said that it was “not my call what papers/websites to use” for advertising. He said Efficiency Maine’s “communications division” was responsible for the selection.
Communications Director Paul Badeau joined Efficiency Maine in March of 2011, well before the ad was placed. The Maine Wire’s requests for comment from Badeau have not been answered.
*update* Paul Badeau responded to requests for comment after the story went live. “I was responsible for placing the ad on Maine Insight,” Baeau said in a statement. “Our review indicated at the time that Maine Insight was a news magazine, provided extensive coverage of energy issues…the cost was well below industry standards for a six-month commitment. I was not aware that this was a partisan website, as that was never conveyed implicitly or explicitly, and nowhere on the site did it indicate being a partisan site.”
Senator Smith says the incident warrants further discussion at the board level. “This illustrates that private websites should be carefully vetted by Efficiency Maine prior to authorizing ads,” Smith said.
When called for comment, Maine Insights owner Ramona Du Houx said that she was “busy, thanks very much” and abruptly hung up the phone.