December 16, 2013

State House Notebook: Political actors play roles as probe stirs up casino bid

The Ethics Commission investigation of a two-year-old failed gambling initiative reveals wheeling and dealing.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The panel enforcing Maine’s ethics and campaign finance laws will broaden its probe into the failed 2011 bid to establish a Lewiston casino. The doomed ballot initiative may be two years old, but its odd intersection of the state’s influential political actors and their attempts to shield their activities – and donors – is generating a fair amount of intrigue.

click image to enlarge

The Bates Mill No. 5 in Lewiston was the proposed site of a casino.

2011 file photo/Joe Phelan

The investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission has already uncovered interesting facts, including that the true source of the $412,000 in donations to two pro-casino political action committees was never disclosed to voters. Also, M5, the Maryland company that would have run the casino had the ballot measure passed, contracted with Brent Littlefield, Gov. Paul LePage’s chief political consultant, to perform a host of campaign-related activities, including voter outreach and advertising.

The Sun Journal in Lewiston, citing an unnamed source, reported that Littlefield had shielded his role in the campaign. During a Dec. 5 Ethics Commission hearing, Peter Robinson, an Auburn lawyer involved in the campaign, publicly confirmed that Littlefield directed the operation. Additionally, the commission subpoenaed the strict confidentiality agreement between M5 and Dome Messaging, a Virginia-based company that Littlefield operated from a rented mailbox.

All of that is interesting fodder for political junkies.

But there may be more.

Remember: The complaint that the Lewiston casino political action committees weren’t on the up-and-up is more than two years old. It was initiated by Dennis Bailey, a longtime Maine political consultant who has done a lot of work for Casinos No, a group with a strong track record of defeating ballot initiatives to allow gambling facilities in the state. In 2011, Bailey somehow got his hands on a private agreement between M5 and Great Falls LLC, a group of Lewiston investors.

The document ultimately provided clues that have helped Ethics Commission investigators trace the true source of the campaign donations. So how did Bailey get such an explosive, private document?

Bailey said last week that he doesn’t know. He suspected that it may have come from backers of the Oxford casino that Bailey and Casinos No failed to defeat at the ballot box in 2010.

The 2011 election was a busy one for Friends of Oxford Casino, the political action committee that formed to oppose two gambling facility proposals. One was a Biddeford racino and partner facility in Washington County. The second was the Lewiston casino. The reason for Oxford’s opposition was straightforward: There’s a limited market for gambling in the state (LePage on the eve of the election famously said Maine couldn’t afford five casinos) and the Oxford casino hadn’t yet opened. If Biddeford or Lewiston were successful in 2011, the viability of the Oxford facility could have been threatened.

Oxford backers spared no expense in their efforts to defeat the 2011 gambling proposals. They hired a top political consulting firm, Strategic Advocacy. The firm is headed by Roy Lenardson, a longtime political operative who has consulted for a host of Republican campaigns and for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. (In 2011, he took some of MHPC’s top talent to form a similar conservative advocacy firm in Florida, the Foundation for Government Accountability.)

Strategic Advocacy now operates in Maine and Florida, and some of Lenardson’s operatives have landed jobs with the LePage administration, which Littlefield now consults for. In fact, Lenardson’s group and Littlefield both worked on Rick Bennett’s unsuccessful 2012 bid to win the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

Lenardson also has a connection with Dennis Bailey. Bailey said Lenardson once worked for Casinos No. The two still talk from time to time.

They talked in 2011 when Bailey was trying to figure out who was running Dome Messaging. He said Lenardson already knew who it was.

(Continued on page 2)

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