PORTLAND, Maine — Newly released documents, including email messages, indicate a one-time Democratic candidate for Maine governor may have known far more about an anonymous website aimed at destroying one of her opponents than she acknowledged.
The documents, part of a federal court case, appear to show that Rosa Scarcelli played an involved and active role in the creation of an anonymous website aimed at discrediting independent candidate Eliot Cutler in 2010.
The documents also suggest longtime Maine political operative Dennis Bailey was working for Scarelli’s campaign when the idea of the “Cutler Files” blog was hatched.
One message among Bailey, Scarcelli, her husband, Thomas Rhoads, and other campaign staff shows Scarcelli first suggested the anti-Cutler blog.
“I feel we need to dislodge him before he develops roots,” Scarcelli wrote of Cutler in November 2009. “I think it’s highly important to start a blog campaign against him like the anti-Richardson campaign.”
Scarcelli on Wednesday again denied early involvement in the website. She said the messages in the brief filed by Cutler’s attorney were taken out of context and are meant to support a political theory.
She said more than 7,000 messages were turned over to the courts and Cutler’s lawyers focused on a few of them. She said the court brief does not include any statements she gave under oath and is in contradiction to those sworn statements.
The quote from the message about a blog campaign was about other blogs and the comment sections on newspaper websites, Scarcelli said.
“I didn’t even know what a blog was in 2009,” she said.
The brief highlights other messages among campaign workers, Scarcelli, Bailey and Rhoads, who also worked on the campaign, that may show Scarcelli rooting for the Republican Party candidate, Paul LePage.
“I’m starting a prayer circle for him,” Scarcelli wrote in one message. In others, she, Rhoads and Bailey discuss the impact the campaign of another independent candidate, Shawn Moody, would have on Cutler, in hopes Moody would get just enough votes to prevent a Cutler win.
At the time, Bailey was also working for Moody, who paid him $35,000 to run his campaign.
“As Rosa predicted, Libby [Mitchell] will be third,” Bailey wrote. “We can get Moody into the 7-8 percent range and Cutler will be toast.”
Mitchell was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor in 2010, beating Scarcelli and former Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe in the primary.
Moody has said he did not know Bailey was working on the Cutler Files and for Scarcelli at the same time he was working for Moody. He received about 5 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election, finishing in fourth place. Mitchell finished third, with 19 percent; Cutler came in second, with 36.5 percent; and LePage won with 38.2 percent of the vote.
Scarcelli said Wednesday that her support for Mitchell never wavered after Mitchell became the party’s nominee. That included attending campaign events and serving on Mitchell’s economic development team, Scarcelli said.
“I supported her 110 percent,” she said.
For nearly a month after the election, Bailey, Scarcelli and Rhoads denied any involvement with the Cutler Files. Messages between Rhoads and Bailey show they discussed how they would hide their connections to the site and how they would answer the news media if questioned about it.
In one response to a message from Rhoads asking Bailey what he would say if a reporter asked him about the Cutler Files while on the air, Bailey wrote, “Not much; I’ll slither by it.”
A subsequent investigation by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices led to a $250 fine for Bailey for failing to disclose who paid for or authorized the Cutler Files. Bailey, with the help of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, is appealing that ruling in federal court, claiming it was an infringement upon his rights under the First Amendment protecting free speech.
Contacted by email for comment Wednesday, Bailey referred questions to the lawyer handling the case at the MCLU.
Lawyer Zachary Heiden said the filings by Cutler’s attorney Wednesday did not change the “material facts” of the ethics commission’s finding. He said the basis of Bailey’s appeal is that Bailey was publishing news on a website and he should be afforded the same First Amendment protections as anyone who publishes news. Heiden said the commission found Bailey was acting alone and independently and his client was not disputing that finding.
One of the two documents filed by Cutler’s lawyer is a motion for summary judgment that would essentially throw out Bailey’s case. Heiden said he would be filing a similar motion Thursday, asking the court to find in his client’s favor.
Ted O’Meara, Cutler’s former campaign manager, said the details revealed in the court records showed a kind of “sordid” behavior that he had never before witnessed in 35 years of being actively involved in Maine politics.
The documents also show Rhoads and Scarcelli agreed to try to sell to other campaigns the research they gathered on Cutler for the website. In one message, Scarcelli suggested giving the information to the LePage camp.
Bailey noted that Democratic Party leaders were unlikely to strike a deal with Scarcelli, including one to support her over U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, if the two were pitted in a primary race.
“I’m fine with selling the book to Libby,” Bailey wrote, “but doubt very much they’ll agree to supporting you as a condition, or if they do, it won’t be worth much. They certainly won’t support you in a primary with Chellie.”
O’Meara said the cover-up, “the series of lies upon lies” was as damaging as the effort to smear Cutler. He said the documents and messages speak volumes to Scarcelli’s political ambitions.
“It was never about what was in the best interests of the people Maine or even her own party,” O’Meara said. “It really was an obsession.”
Scarcelli said the case was about protecting an individual’s right to free, anonymous speech and that the case was proof that without that protection, a person could face political retribution.
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