AUGUSTA, Maine — The head of the state’s accountability agency promised a legislative committee on Friday to “follow the money” as she investigates the $1.1 million grant that went to a now defunct energy group.
The bipartisan Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously not only to order the probe by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, but also to subject it to the “rapid response process.”
OPEGA director Beth Ashcroft said the audit of the Maine Green Energy Alliance will go to the head of the line and other projects will take a little longer to complete.
While she was uncertain how long the study would take, she said many of the documents already had been sent to her by another legislative committee.
She said that she would know within three weeks whether she and her staff will need much longer to compete their work.
The initial questions about the grant were raised by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee after news stories by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that revealed the alliance had not met its goals for signing up households for energy audits.
The center also reported that the alliance had been founded by attorney Tom Federle, one-time counsel to former Gov. John Baldacci, who had helped the alliance get the federal stimulus grant. The articles also reported the unusual number of Democratic activists, candidates and lawmakers on alliance staff.
The alliance agreed to return the unspent portion of the grant to the state agency that oversees energy projects, Maine Efficiency Trust.
Following legislative rule, the energy committee asked the oversight committee to direct OPEGA to conduct the audit of the alliance.
Ashcroft estimated the Alliance had spent $500,000 of the grant.
OPEGA was asked to look into three specific areas: how the money was spent, whether it was spent legally, and were all the funds properly accounted for.
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism organization based in Hallowell and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.