Another LePage donor, another favored land conservation project

Gov. LePage sure is popular with rural landowners these days.

Paul Fortin, owner of Paul Fortin & Sons, a land and timber operation in Madison, donated $20,000 to LePage’s PAC last year.

The EJ Carrier Company, a Jackman-based logging company, also donated $20,000 to LePage’s PAC last year.

Gov. LePage was not up for reelection last year, so why were these donations made at all?

A pattern is emerging that may help explain it.

Last week, the BDN’s Mike Shepherd reported that LePage put aside his years-long hatred for the Land for Maine’s Future program to support the Big Six Forest Conservation Easement project. The project will deliver over one million Maine taxpayer dollars and roughly $5 million in federal and private funds to the owner of the 23,000-acre Big Six parcel.

Fortin, one of LePage’s $20,000 donors, is the owner of the Big Six land.

Fortin’s donation and LePage’s uncharacteristic support for Fortin’s project have raised eyebrows lately.

But this isn’t the only cherry-picked conservation project from a substantial donor that LePage has supported.

Another was called the Gulf Hagas – White Cap project, and it delivered $1.7 million in taxpayer funds. This project was one of the last to receive federal Forest Legacy funding before LePage decided to stop pursuing program funds altogether in 2017, leaving a number of other conservation projects in limbo.

Gulf Hagas. Lee Coursey via Flickr | Creative Commons License 2.0

The Bangor Daily News described the Gulf Hagas – White Cap project this way in 2015:

“The Carrier family will sell 1,200 acres along the Pleasant River to the state as part of the deal, along with an easement on 7,200 acres of forestland. The family, which runs forestry and trucking companies that employ 600 Mainers, will use the money from these sales to buy more forestland to expand its operations.”

The EJ Carrier Company, another of the LePage PAC’s $20,000 donors, is one of the Carrier family companies.  EJ Carrier also donated $3,000 directly to LePage’s campaigns. Jack and Muriel Carrier, along with their LLC, have donated $5,100 to LePage’s campaigns. Richard Carrier donated $2,000 to LePage’s campaign committee in 2013, and his company, Richard Carrier Trucking, contributed $500 to the Maine Republican Party in 2010, and $200 to LePage’s campaign in 2014. 

See the pattern here?

Two favored land conservation projects, and two major donors.

Remember, LePage has characterized land conservation programs as payoffs to wealthy, politically connected landowners.

And remember that LePage characterizes these programs as “corrupt.” In the governor’s words, “You rub my back, I’ll rub your back and we’ll make some money.”

So how does LePage square his concern for the integrity of land conservation programs with the confluence of massive donations and his cherry-picked support for donor projects?

That’s an answer the Maine people deserve to hear.

In recent days, the administration dispatched Republican state Rep. Russell Black to defend the governor’s selective interest in donor-owned conservation projects on talk radio. Rep. Black is one of the best legislators we have in Augusta, and his support for the Big Six project is in earnest. He, and many others, believe this is a worthwhile project for Maine, and I don’t disagree. But while Black lauded the project, he failed to present a reasonable explanation for the governor’s selective support. Rep. Black’s basic defense was that LePage supported the Big Six project years before he received the $20,000 donation from its owner.

This is an insufficient response.

The Big Six project has not been funded yet, and the LePage administration is actively working to make the deal happen — right now. It may be that the governor expressed interest in the project years ago, but the fact remains that LePage reversed his public position on land conservation to support a project that will benefit someone who wrote him a $20,000 check.

Let’s be clear: LePage doesn’t just have a casual dislike for land conservation programs. He’s made brash, unsubstantiated claims of illegality. And he’s withheld voter-approved bonds meant to fund them.

But despite this adamant crusade against land conservation as a concept, LePage has backed two conservation projects that share one core similarity — they will both benefit his donors to the tune of a combined several million dollars.

That, in itself, is a problem. It is the governor’s responsibility to maintain citizens’ faith in our government, and making policy that benefits only people who donate money undermines that faith.

This pattern needs to be explored. LePage cast a shadow over land conservation programs when he called them corrupt, and he’s casting an even darker shadow over them now. The facts on the table show that people who write checks to LePage get support for their projects, and people who don’t, don’t.

The people of Maine deserve to know what’s going on here.

Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.