For months, Eliot Cutler has been trying to find out who's behind the creation of a Web site called the "Cutler Files" that accuses him of "rewriting and revising his history and profile to fit a carefully created campaign persona." There are also photos and comic depictions of the candidate.
Cutler asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate the site, specifically for possible violations of the state's so-called "expressed advocacy" laws. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from MPBN, the commission released some documents from that investigation.
Among them: a subpoena drawn up for Dennis Bailey, president of the Portland consulting firm Savvy Inc. Cutler says Bailey needs to cooperate with the commission. "I think that Mr. Bailey's approach to politics, in some important respects, is reflected in that Web site, in terms of the tone, in terms of the viciousness of it and in terms of the distortions."
Bailey is currently is a consultant for Independent candidate Shawn Moody and formerly worked for Rosa Scarcelli, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in the primary this past June.
On his personal Web site, Bailey has authored articles that are severely critical of Cutler. And Cutler says the fact that Bailey has surfaced as a person of interest in the Ethics Commission's investigation does not bode well for Maine politics.
"I'm sorry to hear that he was involved, because, frankly, as I say, he's a significant participant in Maine politics and I think he would take us down the wrong road if this were to become common practice," Cutler says.
In a letter to Bailey dated Sept. 17th, Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, thanked Bailey for voluntarily participating in a Sept. 13th interview. In the same letter, Wayne noted that during the interview, Bailey declined to answer some questions, and indicated that he wanted to first speak with the people who are responsible for the Cutler files Web site.
Cutler says the commission's staff needs to determine who's responsible for the site that he says was created solely to turn people against him and to cast their vote for someone else.
"I understand that he has indicated that he knows who the other people are who are behind this site, and I hope the Ethics Commission will pursue it with him and get to the bottom of this," Cutler says.
Dennis Bailey declined to be interviewed on tape for this story, but insisted that -- contrary to Wayne's characterization -- he never implied that he knew who was behind the creation of the Web site.
And it's unclear whether Bailey was one of the people being repesented by Republican activist and Waterville lawyer Dan Billings, who spoke on behalf of the Cutler Files last month at an Ethics Commission meeting in Augusta.
"I'm not going to comment at all on who I represent in these proceedings - the entire point of my representation is to protect the anonymity of my clients," Billing says.
Billings says that the Cutler Files creators have not surpassed the $100 threshold of expenses that would trigger the reporting requirements of the state's expressed advocacy law, which governs messaging that advocates for or against a particular political candidate.
Billings says his clients are entitled to the protections of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees their right to anonymous free speech.
"The United State Supreme Court has recognized that individuals have a First Amendment right to speak anonymously about political matters. Obviously the courts have also recognized that the state has an interest in knowing who's spending money to influence elections," Billings says. "I think what's important in this case is the very small amount of money involved in putting up this Web site, and that with a small amount of money involved, the state doesn't have an interest in requiring discloruse of who's behind the Web site."
Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne says staff investigators are waiting for some detailed answers to about 20 questions that they have posed to Billings before they'll decide on whether to subpoena consultant Dennis Bailey in connection with the case.