About a year ago, Maine Gov. Paul LePage threatened to withhold $500,000 in state funding from a nonprofit charter school if it didn't remove its president, Mark Eves—who also serves as Maine's speaker of the House. His tactics worked that time, and he has continued to make controversial comments and play hardball with nonprofits in order to try to get his way.
His latest move involved a letter to The Humane Society of the United States' CEO and President Wayne Pacelle, questioning the organization's tactics.
“I am writing to express my disappointment with your recent media event regarding your 'Request for Investigation of Shell Egg Production Facility in Turner, Maine,'" he said in a June 8 letter, which LePage released in a press release as well. "Because of the manner in which this was brought to our attention, I can only conclude you are more concerned with fundraising than you are about the animals involved; in this case, chickens."
LePage claimed the state was not informed prior to the Humane Society's release of an undercover video of the egg farm that alleged unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Pacelle's organization made complaints to the state Department of Agriculture, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee and the Food and Drug Administration, asking for an investigation five days before the June 8 video release, according to the Portland Press Herald. As a result, the state vowed to investigate June 9.
Pacelle said he avoided contacting the governor directly because he is "a menace on animal welfare."
“This is just the latest example of LePage being on the wrong side of animal welfare," Pacelle told the newspaper. "He allowed the state government to improperly spend state dollars and staff time influencing an election and lobbying against a bear protection ballot measure. He tried to kill off the most important revenue stream for low-income spaying and neutering in the state, and vetoed bills to crack down on the sale of puppy mill dogs at pet stores, and to restrict ownership of animals for a short period after a person was convicted of malicious cruelty."
And he's not just aggravating animal welfare nonprofits. Shortly before that incident, he sent letters criticizing the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), the state's largest environmental group, directly to its members. He declared his dismay for the group during the Republican State Convention in April, according to Maine Public Broadcasting.
“This summer, you’re gonna hear an awful lot about a little war that’s developing between one governor and a whole lot of rich nonprofits around the state of Maine, because the Natural Resources Council of Maine has got to go,” LePage said.
However, one of the NRCM donors to whom he directed his ire included the nonprofit's executive director, Lisa Pohlmann. In the letter, dated May 27, he opened by offering to expose NRCM's "true intent."
"The job-crushing, anti-business policies of NRCM are preventing rural Mainers from getting the kind of jobs they need to raise themselves out of poverty," LePage said in the letter, which was sent to about 200 NRCM members, according to the Portland Press Herald.
He claimed the nonprofit has been holding the state back due to its efforts to block new mining regulations and hydroelectricity development in addition to its plans to create a national monument. He noted a balance between economic development and environment preservation is needed.
"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 dual Maine a national park vitally devoid of human activity or meaningful employment," he said in the letter to donors. "I would request that you carefully review NRCM's policy positions before donating to them in the future."
NRCM responded by calling his criticism a "smear campaign" and urged him to stop spending taxpayer money on such tactics that have included the donor letters, a "wanted" poster featuring an NRCM staffer that was displayed at a March town hall meeting, and at least 40 mentions of its name in speeches, media interviews and town hall meetings since March.
“We have clearly gotten under the governor’s skin," Pohlmann said in a June 2 statement. "He seems fixated on denying everything that has gone wrong on his watch as governor and deflecting blame away from himself. He appears to relish creating enemies and attacking those who disagree with him—and now NRCM is his target. This is no way to govern.
“But don’t mistake the real message here: The governor is attacking Maine’s environment, pure and simple," Pohlmann continued. "Since elected in 2010, the governor has tried to weaken the laws and safeguards that protect Maine’s lakes, waterways, forests and wildlife. Maine people don’t support his anti-environment agenda, and a bipartisan majority of Maine lawmakers has consistently voted it down. The governor is wrong and Maine people are right: A healthy environment is the very foundation for our economy.”
And NRCM is fighting back by filing a Freedom of Access letter to request copies of all documents at the governor's office that mentions its name, including LePage and his staff's research into the nonprofit's membership, tracking down addresses of its members, and writing and mailing the letters. The organization also planned to share his letter with all of its donors.
"Last [month] the governor’s office was scouring the internet for the addresses of NRCM members so he could send them a harassment letter, but next week he could be sending similar letters to members of any organization that disagrees with his policies," Pohlmann said in the statement. "Where does this stop? This tactic harkens back to something that [Sen.] Joseph McCarthy would have done in the 1950s, not a governor of the state of Maine in 2016.”
The governor announced last week that he has written Pohlmann another letter—this time to sit down soon to discuss their differences.
"I invited her to meet with me to discuss how we can work together to conserve our environment while allowing the economic development that will create good jobs for Mainers," he said during his weekly radio address. "I’m not talking about short-term jobs for workers to install a couple of solar panels on your neighbor’s roof at our expense. I’m talking about long-term, good-paying career jobs for Mainers that will lift them and their families out of poverty."
Pohlmann acknowledged that she had received the governor's letter and agreed to meet with him.
"Over the past five years we have disagreed with the governor’s false notion that Maine needs to dismantle its environmental laws in order to enhance our economy," Pohlmann said in a June 8 statement. "It’s just not true. A strong economy, clean environment and healthy people go hand-in-hand—and Maine people know that. I’ll be glad to discuss with the governor why this is true."