AUGUSTA, Maine — After his administration was sued by Attorney General Janet Mills over withholding millions from her office, Gov. Paul LePage injected himself into her Nov. 6 race to succeed him and compared her to former Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
It was the second legal volley between the Republican governor and Mills this week. On Monday, he announced that he would appeal a judge’s ruling in favor of Mills in a lawsuit over her power to weigh in on out-of-state lawsuits to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
The lawsuit over funding to Mills’ office comes after LePage tried for months to get the attorney general to itemize billing for legal services to state agencies — normally a rote function of government — in a way that her office has said would be costly.
All of these actions are tinged by the upcoming race to succeed LePage. Mills led Republican businessman Shawn Moody in a poll released over the weekend. The governor has blasted Mills in radio appearances this week after years of frequent clashes between the two.
On Wednesday, LePage compared her on WGAN to Clinton, saying she’s “acting exactly like Hillary Clinton acted with her emails” — a reference to a controversy which roiled the race between Clinton and President Donald Trump.
“She is hiding her billing,” he said. “She’s not telling us where she’s spending the money.”
Mills spokeswoman Melissa O’Neal responded in a statement on Wednesday to say that the billing practices are transparent and follow those that have been in effect for two decades. She said LePage’s actions “harm the ability of this Office to serve the people of Maine.”
“The Attorney General’s office is committed to providing high-quality legal work for all state agencies, and will continue to do so despite not being paid for that work,” she said.
In May, the governor sent Mills a letter saying he wanted to her to bill state agencies with invoices containing time increments and that he would hold payments until that happens. She responded with a letter of her own, saying Maine law doesn’t require it and that her office and state agencies work so closely together that the billing model wouldn’t “fit this relationship.”
By June 30, Mills’ office said the state had welshed on $4.9 million in bills. Mills’ office sent a letter in late August to LePage budget commissioner Alec Porteous that said it intended to sue if it continued and that changing the billing process would be unnecessarily costly.
The lawsuit came on Oct. 1 in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta, but it wasn’t noticed to the public until Wednesday, when LePage issued a news release on the subject.
The complaint says the LePage administration’s actions have “no legal basis,” violate Maine law and that the demands would “serve no useful purpose” if implemented. Mills asks the court to order the administration to make past and future payments to the attorney general’s office.
Patrick Strawbridge, a private attorney for the LePage administration, responded in court on Wednesday to say the governor “cannot accept this lack of transparency” and that the complaint wrongfully asks the court to “insert itself into a conflict between two constitutional officers.”
LePage went further in a statement, hitting Mills for a “secretive process” and mentioning her run for governor by saying, “If she cannot manage to use sound fiscal management principals running a single agency, I question her ability to do so statewide.”
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