AUGUSTA, Maine — Two Democratic lawmakers are requesting that the Legislature’s watchdog group investigate an allegation that Gov. Paul LePage pressured the former president of the World Acadian Congress to resign.
The request, submitted Tuesday to the Government Oversight Committee by Reps. Roland “Danny” Martin of Sinclair and Robert Saucier of Presque Isle, follows a report outlining the allegations by Mike Tipping, a progressive activist whose blog is hosted by the Bangor Daily News.
In the blog, Tipping wrote that former WAC president Jason Parent confirmed he resigned from his post in 2013 after a LePage appointee communicated the governor’s displeasure with the fact that then-U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, received a commemorative license plate from the group before LePage did.
Michaud had not yet announced that he’d run for governor, but his intentions to run against LePage the next year were well-known. LePage allegedly threatened to withhold state funding for the World Acadian Congress if Parent did not step down.
“When asked if the allegations that financial threats from Gov. LePage forced him from his role as president were true, Parent said simply ‘I can confirm that is the case,’” wrote Tipping, who is the communications director of the progressive advocacy group Maine People’s Alliance and has written a book criticizing LePage.
The governor’s office has categorically denied Tipping’s report.
On Tuesday, in response to Martin and Saucier’s request, the administration blasted the Maine media and Democrats in the Legislature for “using a manufactured account from a Maine People’s Alliance blogger to fan the flames of their fanatical opposition to the governor.”
“Gov. LePage did not threaten to withhold funding from the World Acadian Congress,” read a written statement from LePage’s communications office. LePage actually provided $1 million in funding for the Congress, the statement said. “This bogus charge is another example of the Maine Democrats being led around by the nose by the pro-welfare activists at Maine People’s Alliance.”
Tipping quoted named and anonymous World Acadian Congress board members to corroborate the allegations, but others have told media outlets that the claims are false.
Now, Martin and Saucier say they want state investigators to uncover the truth.
“This request is being made with the intent of clarifying for the public and members of the state Legislature what occurred and ensuring that taxpayer dollars are not being used to improperly influence or punish members of the public or institutions in order to influence elections,” they wrote in their letter.
The Government Oversight Committee, a bipartisan legislative panel, has already approved an investigation into whether LePage acted illegally or unethically by threatening to withhold funds to Good Will-Hinckley, a Fairfield nonprofit that helps at-risk youth and runs a charter school, if the group did not fire House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat and a top political opponent of LePage’s.
Good Will-Hinckley had already contracted Eves to be its new president when LePage threatened to pull more than $500,000 in annual state funding. The group acquiesced, firing Eves, who is contemplating a civil lawsuit against the governor.
Beth Ashcroft, director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability — the agency investigating the issue under the committee’s purview — said Tuesday that Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, had also requested that the investigation be broadened to include the new allegations.
Ashcroft said the Government Oversight Committee would have to consider any new requests. The panel is next scheduled to meet on Aug. 20.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.