Frary: What’s a Proteus?


There are three possible answers to this question. In Greek mythology, Proteus was a prophetic old man of the sea who could assume all sorts of shapes to escape if some nosy busybody tried to get answers out of him. There are two zoological answers. The first describes a slimy, blind amphibian that dwells in dank caves along the Adriatic Coast. The second describes a school, hive, or herd of zealous Leftlurchers who dwell in Amherst, Massachusetts and sometimes assume the shape of the Piper Fund, sometimes that of the Proteus Action League.

In 1995 the Amherst Proteus assumed the shape of “a funder collaborative” (i.e. the Piper Fund) which has “developed grant making strategies designed to build a stronger money in politics movement.” By 2014 the Fund had found 32 “funding partners” to promote the cause. Piper makes grants “to selected regional and national networks that work to develop their own unique voice and perspective about the problems that face our democracy and our campaign finance system.”

Maine is one of seventeen states blessed by the flow of Piper funding. Its website reports donating $402,500 to Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE) between 2012 and 2015.
On May 18 this year Proteus paid $200,000 to MCCE. On May 19 MCCE turned right around and donated $100,000 to Mainers for Accountable Elections. I suppose that means we are expected to count that hundred grand as coming from Mainers, not Massachusettian Proteids.

MCCE has now shape-shifted into Mainers for Accountable Elections (MAE), to which the Proteus Action League donated $150,000 on August 26, $100,000 on September 18 and $100,000 on September 24. The Proteus Action League’s 2015 Campaign Finance Report informed the Ethics Commission on October 5 that its “total expenditures” had been over $350,000. I’m guessing that most of the $50,000 donated by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections to Mainers for Accountable Elections on September 28 originated with Proteus.

We must guess because Mainers for Accountable Elections, which supposedly aims to enact legislation guaranteeing “transparency,” is far from transparent about its funders. Lance Tapley’s July 2006 report in the Portland Phoenix, “The Left is Reorganizing,” shines some light on the Amherst Proteus. Unfortunately, it casts shadows even as it illuminates. He tells his readers that the Proteus Fund planned to create”an embryonic coalition called the Blueprint Project” incorporating 40 organizations. It announced it was making a commitment of $800,000 for the first year’s operation, intending “to continue a degree of funding for years.”

Mr. Tapley found that Proteus seemed “opposed to its own belief — as its Web site home page states — that ‘lasting social change can occur only when people participate in an open, political process.’ Extracting information about Blueprint has been a reporter’s nightmare.”

But Question One is not only about transparency, it is also about curbing the influence of dark money groups, special interest money, corporate money, big business money, nasty peoples’ money,  on Maine politics. Paula Sutton’s Mainers Against Welfare for Politicians (MAWP) PAC has raised $31,000 to counter the $1,232,401.95 in cash contributions to MAE reported in the Ethics Commission’s Schedule A. When I asked Paula to explain the stinginess of the nasty big money people she had no answer.

A big mystery here. On one side we see the Proteus Fund working hard for clean elections in alliance with a dozen organizations south and west of Kittery Bridge. On the other side we have Paula Sutton unsupported by all those Big Money Special Interest Nasties (BiMSIN).whose power is based on dirty elections. Where are the Koch Brothers?

I’ve found no trace of the Proteus Blueprint project since 2006 and have no idea what shape it may have assumed since then, but the ambition of the Amherst Proteus to ideologically colonize the State of Maine by coordinating a coalition of progressives appears to be on course. In addition to that $1,232,401 in cash contributions, the Ethics Commission “Schedule A-1 In-Kind Constrictions” shows another $52,956 from Every Voice, Sierra Club, Maine Education Association, the Maine People’s Alliance, ACLU of Maine, Maine Conservation Alliance, Maine People’s Resource Center, and the Communications Workers of America.

Is it possible Proteus had something to do with the passionate interest shown by all kinds of People from Away in the cleanliness of Maine’s political campaigns? We see from Nathan Strout’s column that New Yorker Sean Eldridge ($200,000 donation) has involved himself in Maine politics before, but how to explain People from Far Away like Pat Stryker of Fort Collins, Colorado, or J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath of Santa Monica, California each of whom sent $50,000. For me it’s more interesting still to discover that of the 134 Californians who donated small sums, 65 are “not currently employed.” Unemployed Mainers, in contrast,  are far more reluctant to contribute (only two from progressive Portland) but MAE has somehow found hundreds of jobless contributors from a couple dozen states.


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