AUGUSTA, Maine — Former Gov. Paul LePage confirmed on Monday that he was paid in 2019 by a lobbying firm to advocate for Central Maine Power Co.’s hydropower corridor, which has been perhaps the hottest political issue facing his Democratic successor.
The Republican said in a Monday statement to the Bangor Daily News that he was paid $7,500 last year by Mitchell Tardy Jackson, a high-powered lobbying firm that has been working for the utility since last year to fend off legislative proposals aimed at killing the $1 billion proposal. LePage could do more paid work on the corridor in the future.
The issue has long been a rare point of agreement between LePage and Gov. Janet Mills, who won the 2018 election on a promise to overturn much of the former governor’s conservative legacy. LePage’s paid involvement in the corridor fight may take on added political importance since he’s considering a 2022 run against Mills.
The project would bring Hydro-Quebec power to the regional grid through a 145-mile transmission line, but it is under threat from opponents who recently delivered more than 75,000 signatures to the state in a bid to put a question killing the project on the November ballot.
After the Maine project became Massachusetts’ top option to fulfill a massive clean-power request in 2018, LePage’s energy adviser vowed to “push this right through” permitting. Mills supported the corridor last year after inking a $250 million benefits package over 40 years.
LePage is now a Florida resident, but he has spoken in favor of the project in recent talk-radio appearances. Last week, LePage told WVOM he is “probably not the right guy to come back” into office if the corridor is defeated by voters.
In a Monday statement, LePage adviser Brent Littlefield said the former governor was paid last year by Mitchell Tardy Jackson to provide “factual data” on the project. Littlefield said his work has not required him to register as a lobbyist under state law. He said LePage had not been paid for any work in 2020, but “he may be compensated” for more work in the future.
“I will continue to advocate for this project whether I receive any compensation because it’s the right thing to do,” LePage said in a statement.
Josh Tardy, a principal at the lobbying firm and a former Republican legislative leader, declined to give specifics on LePage’s work for his firm. But he said the former governor has “extensive political, business and social networks” that are “invaluable” for corridor backers.
Tardy also said the firm “may very well have more projects” for LePage in the future, saying he could be deployed to talk to business leaders about the corridor’s benefits, but the lobbyist said LePage’s radio and other public discussions on the corridor have been on his own.
“Nothing he’s done has been as a communications fiduciary,” Tardy said. “It’s been as Paul LePage, the political maverick.”
LePage’s paid work on the project has long been rumored in Augusta, but firm details did not emerge until Monday. His predecessor as governor, Democrat John Baldacci, is paid $200,000 annually to sit on the board of Avangrid, a U.S. subsidiary of Iberdrola, CMP’s Spanish parent.
Cheap Canadian hydropower was a white whale of LePage’s eight-year tenure as governor from 2011 to early 2019. He repeatedly advocated for scrapping a 100-megawatt cap for hydropower as part of Maine’s renewable energy portfolio. The CMP project emerged only at the end of his tenure. It has become perhaps the most controversial issue in Maine politics.
More than 20 towns have either opposed the corridor or pulled support for it, while a poll funded by opponents in early 2019 found 65 percent disapproval among Mainers. CMP poured $2.3 million into its campaign to salvage the project by 2019’s end, while natural gas generators that could lose market share if the project is completed have spent to boost opponents.