AUGUSTA, Maine — A political action committee advocating for Central Maine Power Co.’s proposed transmission line project alleges its opponents may have violated state petition gathering laws.
Clean Energy Matters attorney Newell Augur of Pierce Atwood LLP sent a letter to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap on Feb. 27 saying a woman hired to notarize signatures on Say No’s behalf — the main group behind a referendum opposing the utility’s $1 billion proposed project — engaged in other services for the campaign, including sorting and organizing petitions. State law says notaries are not allowed to provide other services to the campaign. It’s not clear who hired the woman.
The Maine secretary of state’s office said Wednesday that the Say No campaign submitted almost 70,000 signatures, clearing the threshold needed to put the campaign’s question on the ballot. The measure, if it succeeds, would force Maine Public Utilities Commission to reverse its prior finding and say the project is not in the public’s interest.
The campaign has been contentious for months. Opponents and supporters have traded ethics complaints, some of which will be addressed by the Legislature’s government ethics commission next week. Hydro-Quebec, the province-owned company partnering with CMP on the project, paid a $35,000 ethics fine recently.
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Clean Energy Matters hired public investigator Jeffrey Merrill to observe the signature-gathering process. He observed the woman at a field office in Portland on three days in late January, according to an affidavit attached to the letter. His activities included observing the woman work from an office at 449 Forest Ave. in Portland and pulling information from her social media account, which identified her as a notary.
Say No organizer Sandra Howard — who leaked a redacted version of Augur’s letter and the affidavit in a press release — characterized the actions as “stalking corridor opponents,” and called on CMP chair David Flanagan to stop it.
“This is a shocking and frightening revelation,” she said in a statement. “Our team is rattled by this, and we’re exploring a number of options to ensure the safety of our volunteers and organizers going forward.”
Clean Energy Matters Campaign Director Jon Breed said the activity was “standard operating procedure” for a political campaign. “What our researchers found were clear violations of the law by the opposition — laws that were being broken out in the open, in view of the public,” he said in a statement.
Augur said the woman notarized possibly thousands of petitions. If the allegations are true, those petitions would be invalid.
The secretary of state’s office found more than 12,000 of the 85,000 signatures Say No submitted were invalid for reasons ranging from duplicate signatures to the circulator collecting signatures prior to being registered in Maine. The decision notes the office received Clean Energy Matters’ concerns prior to the filing deadline, but did not have the time to investigate the matter.
A secretary of state’s office spokesperson said the matter would be beyond its scope and any investigations would have to go through the Maine attorney general’s office.