May 2, 2010

Otten responds to charges that he plagiarized answer to survey

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BY MEREDITH GOAD

Maine Sunday Telegram

A Republican gubernatorial candidate issued a statement Saturday answering charges that his campaign plagiarized an answer to a political website's questionnaire on education policy.

But Les Otten's initial mea culpa, posted on the website Augusta Insider -- augustainsider.us/ -- didn't sit well with Stephen Bowen of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, whose work Otten is accused of calling his own.

Bowen posted an angry response on the Maine Heritage Policy Center's own website, saying he is "not buying it."

The political kerfuffle began when the Augusta Insider website teamed up with another website, Dirigo Blue, to develop a survey on education policy for all of the Blaine House candidates. The candidates' answers were posted Friday.

"I got a comment on the blog that said, 'Well, you should take a look at Les Otten's response to this particular question because it's awfully similar to something written by Stephen Bowen from the Maine Heritage Policy Center that he testified on last March,'" said Derek Viger, administrator of the site.

"I took a minute to look at Stephen's testimony," Viger said, "and realized (Otten's answer) was basically an exact copy, word for word. I notified Stephen at once."

Bowen, who was attending a Portland Sea Dogs game Friday afternoon, said he began getting e-mails and phone calls from people, including Viger, asking him about it.

The Otten camp sent in an apology and explanation, which was posted at the bottom of the questionnaire Saturday. The campaign noted that Otten and his staff had met with Bowen and his colleagues, and that they had "pointed us toward this public testimony."

Otten's response gave credit to Bowen and apologized "for the inadvertent oversight as the final draft of our response was being prepared. This is an error of omission not an error of commission."

Viger said he didn't take the incident personally, but he understands why Bowen is so upset.

"I had just intended on providing a service for the voters," he said. "I'm an education policy major, so it's something that I'm really interested in.

"It was just to give information to the voters, so in that respect I'm disappointed that someone wouldn't take it seriously and would try to pass off someone else's work as their own."

Bowen said he worried that the phrasing of Otten's apology might lead some people to believe that the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank, endorses certain candidates by helping them.

"The tone of their reponse is, I guess, what bugged me," Bowen said Saturday. "It suggested it was inadvertent and accidental, and I don't believe it was."

Bowen said Otten called him Saturday and personally apologized. "He said, 'I should have stayed on top of it, and I didn't,'" Bowen said.

So is he satisfied with that response?

"To the extent that gubernatorial candidates are using our information, that's a good thing," Bowen said. "That's what we want. We want to be a part of the public policy discussion in Maine. We just ask that you give us the proper credit for it, that's all."

Otten did not return calls left at his home and on his cell phone Saturday.

 

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