by Scott Thistle, State Politics Editor
Sun Journal news story
AUGUSTA – The state’s largest nonprofit pro-environment group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Thursday Gov. Paul LePage has been sending letters to its donors that many consider harassment.
LePage’s staff confirmed letters were sent to about 200 NRCM donors that are listed on the organization’s website. In all, the organization has about 16,000 members, with the vast majority of them living in Maine, according to Lisa Pohlmann, the NRCM’s executive director, who is also a donor and a recipient of one of LePage’s missives.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said LePage sent the letters to inform the nonprofit’s donors that the organization has worked to support legislation that is robbing Maine of jobs.
Pohlmann told a group of reporters gathered Thursday at the State House the group has filed a formal Freedom of Access Act request with LePage’s office to find out how much was spent on the letters and how the home addresses were discovered by state employees in order for the letters to be mailed.
“Over the past months the governor has produced and publicly displayed a wanted poster about NRCM, attacked us by name in dozens of speeches and radio addresses, and now this week has sent dozens of NRCM members a harassment letter about NRCM,” Pohlmann said.
“We were founded by Maine people, and after working for 57 years in Maine we can say with total confidence that Gov. LePage is the most anti-environment governor in our history,” she said.
Pohlmann said LePage was simply angry that his anti-environmental policies have been rejected in a bipartisan fashion in Augusta.
“That’s what happens when his proposals are so out of step with the majority of Maine people,” Pohlmann said. “And now it appears the governor has taken the unprecedented step to have public employees hunt down the names and addresses of NRCM members so that he can send harassment letters to their homes. This has got to stop. The governor should not be using Maine taxpayer money for this vendetta against NRCM.”
Bennett said the use of taxpayer money to send the letters was an appropriate move for the state’s chief executive officer. She said LePage has worked for five years to lower energy costs, lower taxes and create jobs as way to attract young families to Maine and grow the state’s economy.
“He’s going to try and put forward the best policies. For five years he has tried to do things that NRCM has opposed adamantly,” Bennett said.
LePage’s Communications Director Peter Steele said the letters were not political, but focused on policy that LePage wants to advance.
“This is about policy and legislation. This is legislation they’ve pushed that the governor believes is hurting job creation in Maine,” Steele said.
In the letter LePage attacks the organization writing, “NRCM is not interested in a balance. It is an activist group that says ‘no’ to every opportunity to allow Mainers to prosper, and it is working to make rural Maine a national park virtually devoid of human activity or meaningful employment.”
LePage also asks donors to “carefully review NRCM’s policy positions before donating to them in the future.”
Bennett provided reporters with a list of bills the NRCM either supported or opposed that were counter to LePage positions – although all the bills on the list have either been enacted or defeated by the full Legislature.
The bills include ones opposed by the NRCM that would have allowed for metal mining in northern Maine and revisions to the state’s oil spill reporting requirements. LePage also opposes bills supported by the NRCM including one that would tax plastic shopping bags and one that would allow for the transfer of land to the federal government for a National Monument in Maine’s northern forest.
Steele said the letter was written by LePage and mailed out using a discounted bulk postage rate, but he did not immediately disclose how much the mailing cost the state to produce.