Hatchetgate: Lawyer behind allegations against LePage has ties to potential 2014 opponents


AUGUSTA – The lawyer who helped fuel sensationalist claims about Gov. Paul R. LePage’s March 21 meeting with state workers is a staunch partisan with political motives for attacking the Governor, according to a report released Monday by the Maine GOP.

David G. Webbert, an Augusta-based attorney who also serves as president of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association, stoked the fires of false controversy last week in interviews he gave to several Maine newspapers.

Several Maine newspapers, starting with the Lewiston Sun Journal, ran stories last week based on the anonymous gossip of disgruntled state workers who claimed LePage illegally pressured Department of Labor staffers to deny unemployment insurance benefits. (Recommended: Disgruntled state workers lie about Blaine House Bully to cover discrimination against employers…)

In interviews with several news outlets, Webbert condemned the Governor and told newspaper reporters that the allegations from anonymous state workers that LePage bullied them were “just the tip of the iceberg.”

But according to the GOP’s press release, Webbert has a history of donating to Democratic politicians and political committees – including potential challengers to LePage’s 2014 re-election bid.

“A review of publicly available political contribution information shows Webbert, who continues to push attacks through the Maine media, has a long history of giving to Maine Democratic candidates and partisan Democrat causes,” Republicans stated in a press release.

According to state and federal campaign finance records, Webbert has a history of giving money to Democratic politicians and political committees. His donations include $500 each to U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Mike Michaud (D-Maine) – both potential challengers to LePage in 2014.

Webbert has also given money to ActBlue and Obama for America – two leftist super PACs, and the Maine Democratic State Committee.

“It’s clear by looking at this information that David Webbert has an axe to grind with Governor LePage,” said Republican Party Chairman Richard M. Cebra.

“The partisan politics being played here to attack Governor LePage with anonymous sources making such stunningly false statements is disturbing,” said Cebra. “Even worse is watching a deeply partisan lawyer with an axe to grind being given credibility and a platform to perpetuate these falsehoods.”

“This is very clearly much more about partisans attacking Governor LePage and aiding his political opponents with a manufactured controversy than anything else,” said Cebra.

“It is ridiculous, and it needs to stop.”

None of the stories that contained interviews with Webbert referenced his overt partisan ties.

The MAINE WIRE analyzed the March 21 meeting between the Governor and Department of Labor staffers as well as the media’s reckless bias in reporting on the story last week. (Recommended: Hatchetgate: The Anatomy of a Hit Piece) 

Webbert did not immediately respond to calls placed to his Augusta law office.

By S.E. Robinson

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  1. Good judgment would have said a closed door meeting with no audio or video recording on a sensitive subject as labor relations is a bad idea. However, it is apparent Paul LePage can only function emotionally when he is in complete control of a situation; either reading from a script or behind closed doors. Otherwise he is a loose cannon; something his handler’s painfully recognize. LePage’s handlers will be tested over the next two years protecting Paul LePage from himself. They must keep him hidden behind closed doors with no record of what occurred for all situations where he might “lose it”, and hope that everyone will forget his emotional challenges of the first two years in office.

  2. When the governor removed the mural in 2010 he painted a target on himself. With each emotional outburst, with each attack on someone or some group that target has grown. As the target has grown so has the Governor’s lack of emotional and communication skills been further solidified in the public’s mind. To many the target now is “too big to miss”, so it should come as no surprise when someone takes a shot.

    Yet the governor and his staff appeared surprised, shaking their heads in disbelief at the accusations of bullying, intimidation. Easily a few documented examples of his concerns could have been distributed, a recorded discussion of the governor using the document to explain why they are concerns, followed by a question and answer period. No news story, no controversy, no wasting time defending against accusations that could have been easily averted.

    I’m not concerned with possible character assassination by a hard-core partisan when we have a governor who seems unable or unwilling to avoid controversy that brings no benefit to the citizens of Maine.

  3. A New Low in Investigative Journalism: The Maine Wire and the Maine GOP question the integrity of a whistle-blower because he regularly contributes to his party and it’s candidates.

  4. When “the governor received an anonymous fax saying it (mural) was reminiscent of communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses” together with removal of collective bargaining rights for Child Care Providers he was sending a symbolic message to the private sector “Maine is Open for Business, no wage or benefit concerns here” and to the citizens of Maine “your rights to fair compensation and benefits are controlled by the state”.

    The continuing attempt to repeal the Maine ban of BPA, the harmful chemical found in plastic bottles, is another symbolic message to the private sector “Maine is open for business, put what you want into your products” and to the citizens of Maine “don’t waste your time challenging the state about health concerns because Paul LePage and his administration doesn’t care about your health”; remember his misogynistic remarks about “little beards”?

    Educational Commissioner Steve Bowen’s dismissal of a citizen’s group shortly after Paul LePage’s comment that “all middle-management are corrupt”, was a message to the private sector “Maine is open for business; if someone gets in your way, they’re gone”.

    State revenue from within the state comes from state income, sales, and real estate taxes. Reducing the state income tax more than likely places additional burden on sales and real estate taxes; and that is Paul LePage’s intent.

    Those who can least afford real estate tax increases are the middle-class and working-class. Mainers will have to work harder and longer, for wages and benefits more highly controlled by the private sector.

    The message to the private sector “Maine is open for business, pay the citizens what you want, no one will get in your way because they won’t have the time or money to object” and to the citizens of Maine “go to Wal-Mart, treat yourself to a six-pack of PBR, sit on the porch and count your blessings”.

    And let’s not forget stating IRS officials are comparable to Nazis, in part because both are responsible for “killing a lot of people”.

    With that I return to my original comment; we have a governor who seems unable or unwilling to avoid controversy that brings no benefit to the citizens of Maine.

    Regarding your assumption that I am a liberal, my recommendation is for you to be more concerned about another label, Corporate Fascism. It’s definition with the blanks filled in.

    A governmental system led by a dictator (Big Banks, Big Oil); having complete power (purchased through Citizens United, lobbyists); forcibly suppressing opposition (anti-union); and criticism (controlled media, Rupert Murdoch); regimenting all industry (right to work); commerce (Wal-Mart, Koch Bothers); and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism (anti-immigration, NRA, military spending); and often racism.

    It is time we stop the name calling, the finger-pointing, and fear mongering; and began addressing the real problem that exists. GREED

    Greed unchecked in the private sector results in the removal of all services, greed unchecked in the public sector results in excessive waste, and greed unchecked in the individual results in an over use of services; entitlement becomes the norm.

    The pendulum has swung. Remove the obscene and over indulgent military spending and what you have left is a private sector that has over reached and outdistanced exponentially any past degrees of waste in the public sector.

    Greed will always be with us and with that a requirement for an economic model that provides checks and balances without impacting creative entrepreneurs from enhancing the quality of our lives.

    Capitalism in its present form, does not work.

  5. Mr. Czyz, it would appear that you have your own axe to grind against our Governor. You paint a dishonest portrait of Gov. LePage that illustrates you haven’t spent much time around the man or actually listening to what he says. Instead you just parrot the dishonest attacks against him perpetrated by the liberal Maine media and liars in the form of this biased lawyer.

  6. Thomas Czyz ..The funding for the mural was a violation of the legislative intent of Congress; legally, the governor was obligated to pull the plug on this kind of ‘fast n loose’ misappropriation of funds.

    Maine has been investigated by GAO several times and in the case of the Migrant Education Funds, forced to pay back much of the money that was misspent.

    You seem to relish in a conspiratorial view of the LePage administration and have convinced yourself that full revenge attacks are merited.

    Perhaps you should see things through the eyes of GAO, or in light of all the scandals of the past administration…$25 m in computer systems that didn’t work; $20 m. invested in Mainsail derivatives which collapsed a mere two weeks after they were bought, and then there is MSHA, MTA and Pat Barnes …and probably a lot more that was shredded before we could document it.

    The unemployment lawyers are protecting their mea lticket and are another self-serving group where lawyers and hearing examiners seem to be protecting their self interest and not that of other parties or the public. When lawyers get paid from the proceeds of the ‘settlements’ it is an invitation to enact strict checks n balances and periodically monitor the relationship between them and the lawyers.

    Or looking at it another way, a cabal of petite bullies met their match in the Governor and are now whining to the media.

  7. Frank Heller – If the governor was “legally obligated to pull the plug on this kind of ‘fast n loose’ misappropriation of funds” why wasn’t a statement made as to his intentions, followed by the removal during daylight hours? Then let the courts rule in favor as they did, sighting the governor did not violate first amendment rights and therefore the governor was in his legal rights to remove the mirror.

    Rather the mural was removed after hours and hidden. When the governor was questioned on his actions he responded with sarcasm referencing North Korean brainwashing. An unacceptable action by anyone in a leadership position, sowing seeds of distrust in all future actions. Or was this a simple action with a simple divisive intent; pit union against non-union, private sector against public sector; LePage supporters against non-LePage supporters?

    Conspiracy? – conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit an unlawful act or to accomplish a lawful end by unlawful means. If you want conspiracy go to Illinois, where four of the last seven governors have served or are currently serving jail sentences.

    Rather the LePage administration, as the Walker’s of Wisconsin and the Scott’s of Florida, follow a simple principle; establish optimal conditions for private firms to enter Maine so that they may profit without interference. We see this occurring through the legislation attempting to remove BPA regulations and in the removal of the day-care union, as examples. You might call it business as usual.

    Which raises the question, how have the above mentioned activities reduced the waste identified in your GAO examples? What other minimal return activities have the administration engaged their time? The governor’s budget places emphasis on reducing the deficit by shifting costs to the local communities. Wouldn’t it be more prudent and cost effective to identify the root cause of issues within the individual communities and working with local administration to significantly mitigate a reoccurrence?

    Are the unemployment lawyers protecting their meal ticket? Possibly, but we may never know because all occurred behind closed doors. However, when the governor indicated that all state government middle managers are “about as corrupt as can be”, to my knowledge not one department head stood up for their staff. They too were concerned about their meal ticket, their silence was very public.

    A governor’s job is very difficult and regardless of party or independent affiliation will have to contend with those in opposition. It takes a broad set of skills knowing when to be tough, when to compromise, and when to acknowledge that someone else has a better idea. If you agree or believe his skill set is appropriate, I respect your decision to support him. However, I cannot support the governor and his administration, and will continue to voice my opinion.

  8. Governor, as the Court rightly pointed out, was well within his power to do with the mural whatever he wanted. The money trail was not entirely clear; and the money was clearly designated by Congress under the REED ACT was for unemployment relief–see Section 209 of the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 2002 (TEUCA), which is Title II of the Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act of 2002, Public Law 107-147, signed by the President on March 9, 2002; Title IX of the Social Security Act (SSA); the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA); the Wagner-Peyser Act; the Workforce Investment Act (WIA); 20 CFR 652; Unemployment Insurance Program Letter (UIPL) No. 39-97 (62 Fed. Reg. 63960 (December 3, 1997)); UIPL No 39-97, Change 1 (January 16, 2002); and Training and Employment Guidance Letter 18-01 (April 22, 2002). for guidance.

    The wealthy artist hired was hardly unemployed nor was this funding through conventional channels.

    Whether you like his leadership style, he is a man of action and did what he thought best. He’s not a policy analyst w/ regulatory experience or he would have followed my track to cite the guidelines and then pull the plug.

    He wasn’t the one who laid out the panels; but whoever did took a decidedly pro-union view of Maine’s employment history and to add insult to injury, used a style called SOVIET SOCIAL REALISM upsetting many people who expected to the independent character of the Maine working man portrayed, not national labor figures.

    …and then to paint in ‘cronies’ of the DOL Commissioner…REALLY!

    This issue had nothing to do with ‘first amendment rights’….those are called a legal fiction to get into courts. The money wasn’t an unrestricted ‘gift’ to someone who paints portraits of the rich and famous to ‘do their thing’ but one which would go on public buildings.

    Assume, an artist could paint whatever they wanted and when people objected, wave her FREE SPEECH banner? Well the issue went to court in regard to WPA murals taken down and destroyed in public buildings in Calif. Courts ruled there is no Free Speech issue, and if the govt. wants to take down the art work, well, they own it. Ditto for that mural.

  9. Thomas Czyz There is a loyal opposition and a seditious one which resorts to slander, conspiracy theories, and gossip mongering to get back their lost power. I believe I know which group you belong to.

  10. Frank Heller: Yes, LePage is a man of action. Yes, he is not a policy analyst w/ regulatory experience nor has a law school education.

    Effective leaders surround themselves with a good team, whose job is to research and advise, both strategically and tactically.

    I’m confident a legal consul and communication director could have taken the four points below extracted from your response and in less than an hour crafted a press release. That press release immediately followed by mural removal would have been a much more effective approach. Would people have been upset? Absolutely, but would have less ground to stand on.

    • the money was clearly designated by Congress under the REED ACT for unemployment relief–see Section 209 of the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 2002 (TEUCA), … Change 1 (January 16, 2002); and Training and Employment Guidance Letter 18-01 (April 22, 2002).
    • The wealthy artist hired was hardly unemployed nor was this funding through conventional channels very well defined in the guidelines in other states—I searched and found no other art work authorized except under very restricted circumstances. Maine misspent the REED ACT Money, and hoped to get away with it under the doctrine of political cronyism.
    • He wasn’t the one who laid out the panels; but whoever did took a decidedly pro-union view of Maine’s employment history and to add insult to injury, used a style called SOVIET SOCIAL REALISM upsetting many people who expected to view the independent character of the Maine working man portrayed, not national labor figures and victories.
    • …and then to paint in ‘cronies’ of the DOL Commissioner

    In the long run there would have been less time spent by all parties on this issue, resulting in more time spent on job creation, education concerns, etc. Did his team provide such options? Unknown.

    If this were an isolated incident, it could easily be cast aside. However, there is a pattern of controversial situations which could have been mitigated by a more effective use of time in preparation rather than the greater time spent in damage control. As a business man the governor should be familiar with the term “pay me now, or pay me later”.

  11. At my cynical best, Severin Bellevue, the patriarch of the Maine Democrat’s party, got a ‘free’ mural glorifying organized labor in a building he was renting to the State…it was ‘affixed’ to the wall; and had it paid for out of the contributions made by business to the FUTA.

    This is an entire ‘other’ issue that was lost in the foofus over artist rights; and that was a very effective smokescreen to cover up the details and profitability of the lease.

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