Otten asks consultant to resign

Posted May 03, 2010, at 11:06 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A consultant with Les Otten’s gubernatorial campaign resigned Sunday after revelations that the campaign lifted material word for word from already published materials.

Campaign manager Edie Smith said Monday morning that she and Otten take personal responsibility for the incident.

“As campaign manager, the buck stops with me,” said Smith. “Les and I and the whole team are feeling the pain of this, and we are hoping to move on.”

Will Gardiner, who wrote speeches and campaign materials for the Otten campaign, resigned over the controversy, according to The Associated Press.

Blogger Matthew Gagnon of the website Pine Tree Politics reported in posts over the weekend that portions of Otten’s written responses to Augusta Insider involving education policy echoed testimony given during the last legislative session by Stephen Bowen of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative Portland-based think tank. Portions of Otten’s responses matched Bowen’s testimony word for word, though in one case some of Bowen’s prose was converted into bullet points.

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Otten said during a telephone interview Monday that the plagiarism was a “serious mistake” on his campaign’s part, but that his response provides a glimpse into how he would operate as the state’s governor.

“On Sunday morning I called our team together and told them I had made a decision that there is a no-tolerance policy on something like this and that we would ask for and accept a resignation,” said Otten. “When I’m governor I will behave in exactly the same manner. It’s unreasonable to think you can be governor for eight years without someone making a mistake.”

Otten acknowledged that his campaign “paraphrased” from Bowen extensively.

“I don’t think the paraphrasing was as egregious as the copied material,” said Otten. “The information that was paraphrased was an attempt to agree with the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s conclusions. There’s no stepping away from any of this nor are we trying to. I own this.”

Bowen said Monday he’s unhappy that the Otten campaign used his material without attribution, but believes Otten when he said he didn’t know where the material came from when he signed off on it.

Tarren Bragdon, executive director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said Monday that he had accepted an apology from Otten over the weekend.

“From our perspective, Les Otten has responded to the plagiarism,” said Bragdon. “From our perspective it ends there.”

Bragdon said information developed by his organization is used by politicians in a wide range of venues.

“There are a lot of different candidates who want to cite our facts,” he said. “The line gets crossed when we go from being a resource to having our material copied.”

Some of Otten’s Republican opponents in the June 8 primary took him to task for the incident. Bruce Poliquin has posted two press releases on his website since Saturday, the first of which called the plagiarism “bad judgment” on Otten’s part. In the second, Poliquin accused Otten of crafting his long-touted “Jobs Plan” from information from the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

“There cannot be looming questions about the integrity of our governor on his or her first day in office,” Poliquin stated in the release.

Paul LePage, another candidate in the seven-person Republican primary, said Otten’s plagiarism was “pretty serious,” though he added that Otten and other candidates have been “using a lot of my ideas.”

“Since the beginning of the campaign I’ve been going after promoting the Constitution, regulatory control and reforms in the Department of Health and Human Services,” said LePage. “Back in September I was the only one speaking about those things, and now everyone is.”

Martin Sheehan, communications director for Matt Jacobson, said Jacobson sees the issue as evidence of flaws in Otten’s character.

“Matt went to the Naval Academy where you have an honor code,” said Sheehan. “That’s just not the way you operate.”

The campaigns for Republican candidates Steve Abbott, Peter Mills and Bill Beardsley either didn’t respond to inquiries from the Bangor Daily News on Monday or declined to weigh in on the matter.

Otten said he wasn’t worried about the impact of the scandal on his campaign.

“Generally when people get attacked it’s because they’re perceived to be in the lead,” said Otten. “We’ve been running an extremely strong campaign, and people are looking for weaknesses.”

Asked how his campaign literature is developed, Otten said most of it is written by staffer and longtime collaborator Bill Strauss after exhaustive conversations within the campaign.

“We have long discussions about economic policy, and we write everything from scratch,” said Otten. “A large amount of that comes off my pen. This is an isolated example for us.”

Poliquin and others, including Pine Tree Politics, characterize the incident as the latest in a pattern of plagiarism dating back to the early days of the campaign when an Otten logo and website appeared to mimic those of President Barack Obama.

Smith rejected the notion that there is any pattern.

“At the beginning of the campaign there was criticism of some of our design work,” said Smith. “That issue dissipated quickly. There is no pattern.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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