AUGUSTA, Maine — Despite telling a television reporter earlier this week he didn’t hire a private company to produce an analysis and recommendations on Maine’s welfare and health care programs, a document obtained from Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s office shows members of his staff in fact authorized the expense.

LePage said Tuesday that Alexander Group was hired by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Based on documents obtained by the Sun Journal, LePage’s staff also signed off on a $179,000 increase in the original cost of the contract awarded to the Alexander Group, bringing its total cost to $925,200.

Democratic lawmakers have been critical of the contract and of the Alexander Group’s CEO Gary Alexander, who signed the contract with DHHS in September.

But a copy of the purchase authorization document, required for no-bid or “sole-source” contracts, along with attached email messages among LePage staffers and officials within the Department of Administration and Financial Affairs and DHHS, show the governor’s office was advised of and did in fact approve the nearly $1 million contract.

Jonathan Nass, LePage’s senior policy analyst; Holly Lusk, the governor’s senior health policy adviser; and Sam Adolphsen, who was serving as director of strategic development for DHHS; exchanged multiple communications on the contract.

It is also clear there was an effort to expedite the contract to enable Alexander’s company to complete its work by Dec. 15 so that LePage’s administration could offer legislation for the upcoming lawmaking session that starts in January 2014.

So far, the first portion of the report by Alexander dealing with an expansion of Medicaid in Maine, which had a target due date of Dec. 1, has not been turned in, according to DHHS officials.

On Tuesday, LePage told the Bangor-based WABI television station, “I didn’t hire him, DHHS did.”

LePage’s communication staff also said Wednesday and again Thursday there were no written communications between DHHS and the governor’s office regarding the contract, and Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said there no documents she knew of at that time.

Bennett said she learned of the authorization document Friday but noted it was a standard administrative process and not a communication she would typically have been in the loop on.

Peter Steele, LePage’s communication director, said it was not a document the governor would have been aware of either and the governor was truthful when he said he didn’t hire Alexander.

Bennett said LePage did meet with Alexander in March, before the contract was issued, and again in October after it had been signed.

Requiring the governor’s office to sign off on sole-source contracts is a procedure that was implemented under former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who issued an executive order in March of 2010 as the state struggled to close a gaping state budget shortfall. That order requires sole-source contracts valued at $1 million or more to be approved by the governor’s office. The order also requires any sole-source contract valued at $3 million or more to be reviewed by the state’s attorney general.

On Friday, Democrats in the Legislature continued to raise concerns around the contract, how it was awarded and the funding sources LePage’s administration was using to pay for it.

Most of the money for the contract comes from the state’s general fund or special revenue funds, but $193,680 of the funding is federal money, including $69,120 that is being diverted from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

A typo in the contract identifies the funding as “Temporary Assistance fromNeedy Families.”

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, roundly criticized the funding source Friday.

“That money, as I understand it, was provided to help children who are in poverty,” Rotundo said. “So they are literally taking food out of the mouths of children, taking money that is intended to feed hungry poor children in order to funnel that money to a political crony of the governor’s.”

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.