Central Maine Power utility lines are seen, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Pownal. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Notaries who worked for the political arm of Central Maine Power Co. were targeted by Sunday calls from a person who pretended to be a higher-up on its referendum campaign, the group said in a complaint to state officials.

The incident added intrigue to a raw battle over dueling questions that qualified for the November ballot last month. Opponents of CMP are trying to get voters to authorize a quasi-state takeover of Maine’s major electric utilities, while the CMP-backed question would force yet another vote on borrowing the billions needed to buy out the infrastructure.

The calls allegedly came one day before consumer-owned utility backers sued the state in an effort to remove the CMP-backed question from the ballot. The caller seems to have been asking questions aimed at invalidating enough signatures from registered voters to kill the referendum.

Maine power referendum contention

“This activity is a harassment of Maine citizens involved in a constitutionally protected democratic process,” Willy Ritch, a Democratic operative who runs two CMP-backed political groups, said in a complaint to Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat.

Andrew Blunt, the executive director of Our Power, the political group advocating for the quasi-state utility takeover, said he was not aware of anyone on his side making the calls, which he called “very strange.”

A spokesperson for Attorney General Aaron Frey, a Democrat, said the office does not comment on investigations but that it generally responds to these types of requests by looking for criminal activity that it would prosecute if the crime was election-related.

Notaries are employed by Maine referendum campaigns to help certify the petitions that carry the signatures of Maine voters needed to qualify for the ballot. They commonly work for different campaigns — even rival ones — over the course of an election cycle.

Four notaries who worked for the CMP-backed group pushing the ballot question got calls on Sunday from a man describing himself as “Alan,” an employee of a company working on the drive, Ritch’s complaint says. In each case, he allegedly asked if the notaries had been fully paid and then asked three of them if they had done any other work for the campaign.

If they had said yes, that information could be important. When Bellows qualified the CMP-led question for the ballot, she invalidated nearly 2,900 signatures because the notaries who helped certify them had performed other services for the campaign, which is barred by state law.

It is unclear who “Alan” was. His phone number is not listed and leads to a generic voicemail inbox. A message left by a reporter was not immediately returned on Wednesday.

CMP referendum campaign

One of the notaries, Lewiston-based Christopher Cousins, said he immediately recognized the calls as a “scam,” since he had only one point of contact with the campaign. He said nothing like this had ever happened to him during work around politics or anything else.

“I’ve never been questioned regarding my notarial acts, ever,” he said.

But Cousins found the call especially strange because the person knew that Kim Letelier, another notary who got a call, was his girlfriend and business partner. They have worked for several other campaigns recently, including the Our Power referendum drive. Blunt said he has never interacted with the two notaries, who only did a small number of those petitions.

The campaign is being largely fueled by money from CMP’s parent company. The company has been responsible for virtually all of the $12 million raised through December’s end by No Blank Checks and Maine Affordable Energy, two groups run by Ritch working to support the borrowing question and oppose the consumer-owned utility question, respectively.

Our Power is fronting the campaign on a cause long championed in the Legislature by former state Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, who now works for the group. It raised $550,000 by the end of 2022.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...