January 16, 2011

MIKE TIPPING: Special-interest money shouldn’t be used on transition expenses

Taking private contributions to pay for a gubernatorial transition expenses is a common, but unseemly, practice that should be changed.

Last week, the LePage administration revealed the names of donors that supported its transition into power. The administration has not disclosed how much each contributor gave, but says it placed a $9,500 cap on donations.

Past incoming governors, such as Angus King and John Baldacci, did the same without the self-imposed limit. Yet these donors, particularly corporations, likely are not giving out of civic duty: They want to influence the new governor and shape Maine’s policy toward their own interests.

The LePage list includes lobbyists and lobbying organizations, such as the Maine Pulp & Paper Association and the Maine Beverage Association, many of which have clear political objectives.

Contributor Downeast LNG, for instance, is trying to build a controversial liquified natural gas terminal on Passamaquoddy Bay.

Contributor FairPoint Communications is seeking favorable regulatory rulings as it emerges from bankruptcy. The company has been fined by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and questioned by legislators and regulators for poor service on its telecommunications infrastructure throughout the state.

Contributor Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield wants Maine’s government to roll back health insurance reforms. It also wants the state to stop fighting its attempts to increase insurance premiums on individual plans.

Several contributors may seek to influence the state’s environmental policies.

BP Corp. North America Inc. gave to the transition, as did what appears to be a related company called BP U.S. Asset Management LLC. During the campaign, LePage said he would support oil drilling off the Maine coast.

Plum Creek and First Wind Energy are on the list, as is Casella Waste Systems, which faces new Department of Environmental Protection odor-control standards at the Biddeford MERC trash plant.

At least these companies, however, have a presence in Maine. Some donors have no connection to the state except a political interest and are unlikely to create even a single job in any local community, yet they support the governor’s transition expenses.

One example is iGPS Co., maker of plastic shipping pallets. Based in Florida, its main interaction with Maine has been opposing a law phasing out the use of the polluting chemical Deca from plastic pallets used to ship food and other goods. The law is set to be implemented over the next few years, under the supervision of Maine DEP.

Another is Mallinckrodt.

 This Missouri-based company is responsible for contaminating the Penobscot River and the land and groundwater in and around the former HoltraChem plant site in Orrington with toxic mercury.

It has fought efforts to clean up the site for decades and continues to do so, despite orders from the DEP and the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.

On this issue, at least, Mallinckrodt may not get its money’s worth.

Pressed on the issue recently by reporter Amy Brown at WERU, a community radio station in Orland that broadcasts to much of the area downriver of the HoltraChem site, LePage spokes-man Dan Demeritt expressed conditional support for the continued cleanup.

“Particularly with the plant and the cleanup issue, I think that to the extent that once we’re in office and we can work on it, I think it’s something we can certainly get behind,” said Demeritt.

Political administrations may say that these donations must be accepted, since the state provides only $5,000 in transition expenses.

The law, then, should be changed, instead of transitional administrations accepting money that’s obviously meant to buy political influence.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes the Tipping Point blog on Maine politics at DownEast.com, his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine People’s Resource Center. He’s @miketipping on Twitter. email: miketipping@gmail.com

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