LEWISTON, Maine — A top political consultant who is the campaign spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage was heavily involved in a failed 2011 attempt to bring a casino to downtown Lewiston.
The Sun Journal has learned that Brent Littlefield was hired by a pair of Maine political action committees to buy airtime on Maine television and radio stations, but his involvement in the campaign went far deeper, according to sources connected to the campaign.
A recent investigation of the Maine Ethics Commission found the PACs formed to support the campaign reported false information about the source of campaign donations. Those PACs and their organizers are now facing up to $85,000 in civil penalties.
A review of Federal Communication Commission records at two Portland-based television stations show Michaeleen Terrana signed for the airtime purchases on behalf of Dome Messaging. Terrana lists an affiliation with Littlefield’s consulting firm on her professional profile on LinkedIn, a Facebook-like business social media site.
Littlefield, who operated the Arlington, Va.-based Dome Messaging from a rented mailbox, was given more than $355,000 to produce and purchase television and radio advertising in Maine in support of the casino ballot initiative. That referendum was resoundingly defeated by voters at the polls.
Calls and email messages to Littlefield seeking comment have gone unreturned.
And while the ethics investigation determined the PACs misreported where the money came from, they accurately reported it was largely paid to Dome Messaging, according to Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne.
Wayne also said it appears Dome did use the funds as intended.
Wayne, who did not identify Littlefield, said it does not appear there were any campaign or ethics violations on the part of Dome.
Littlefield’s connection to the pro-casino campaign is in conflict with LePage’s position on gambling expansions in Maine. It’s unclear whether the governor knew Littlefield was working for a campaign that LePage was openly opposing at the time.
Without naming Littlefield or confirming his connection to Dome, campaign organizer Stavros Mendros said it was Dome Messaging that was running the campaign behind the scenes in 2011. When pressed on who was behind Dome Messaging, Mendros said he wouldn’t say.
“They insisted we don’t tell,” Mendros said. “It may very well come out but I can’t do it because there’s teeth in that non-disclosure (agreement).”
Littlefield and Mendros have known each other for years, going back to their college days at the University of Maine where they were involved in campus politics.
During the casino campaign and in the months following, Littlefield and other campaign workers shielded his connections to the casino bid. Littlefield’s official website, Littlefield and Associates Consulting, touts his 2010 work for LePage’s election but makes no mention of the 2011 casino referendum bid.
Last week Mendros said he was led to believe the donations were coming from a Georgia-based company, GT Source, even though he knew another company, M5, had been formed in Maine and that its principals were negotiating a contract to operate the casino if it gained approval.
One of the primary shareholders of M5, formed as a Limited Liability Corporation in Maine in 2011, was also the CEO of GT Source, Dwayne Graham.
M5′s principal owners included Scott Nash and Ryan Hill, both Maryland-based businessmen involved in casino gambling and slot machine technology, as well as Chase Burns, an Oklahoma-based businessman with ties to casino gambling, according to a memo written by Wayne.
In June, Burns was linked to a gambling scandal involving a yacht in Florida that was purchased to “entertain politicians,” according to the Oklahoman newspaper.
Burns has denied any wrongdoing in the scandal, which led to the resignation of Florida’s lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, in March.
The ethics investigation also discovered that Graham and his company, GT Source, despite being a shareholder in M5, never made any monetary contributions to the new LLC.
Mendros said Dome took control of the campaign and even insisted on creating another PAC, the People of Lewiston-Auburn Committee, headed by then Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert and former Lewiston Police Chief Bill Welch.
He also said Peter Robinson, who was also listed as a treasurer for the first PAC, Green Jobs for ME, was not really controlling any PAC expenditures, he was simply reporting them through the state’s campaign finance disclosure system.
“He didn’t really do what a treasurer would do,” Mendros said. “He wasn’t in control of the purse strings. It was really those guys who did everything. I basically had my entire project taken from me because the only way this group M5 would agree to funding this project was if everything went through Dome. Dome was in complete control of everything.”
Dome Messaging first appeared on expenditure side of the PAC’s required financial reports in early 2011.
The reports did not show who owned Dome, but the agency’s website is registered anonymously through a Web-hosting company in Pennsylvania.
Dome is listed as having an Arlington, Va., address. The address is home to a UPS Store. During the casino campaign, a clerk at the store said Dome rented a mailbox there but state and federal law prevented him from releasing information on who the mailbox was rented to.
Meanwhile, a clerk with the state of Virginia’s Corporations Commission said Dome did not appear to hold any official papers of incorporation and was not registered as doing business in Virginia.
Another check with the city of Arlington also showed the company had no business licenses with the city, but a clerk also said if it was operating out of mailbox it would not be required to. The same clerk said if the company was collecting money in Virginia, however, it should be registered with the state for state tax purposes.
The Maine Ethics Commission was expected to take up the issue of the false reporting of contributions to the two PAC during its regular meeting set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16 but that meeting has been postponed, according to Wayne. A new date for the meeting has not been set yet, Wayne said in an email message Friday.