When the governor's list of proposed rollbacks came out late last month the document contained a small eight-digit number on the lower left-hand corner...the same font and style that the law firm Preti-Flaherty routinely uses when it sends documents and communication to state agencies and when it submits written testimony to the Legislature on behalf of clients.
"And when I compared that to some of the amendments and testimony before the committee last year, it's the same numbering system. So I was quite surprised." said Democratic Representative Robert Duchesne of Hudson, he serves on the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Rep Duchesne said. "What really disturbs me, I guess, is the line seems to get blurred with the Administration as to who's doing the governor's work. And when you're seeing proposals coming out in the governor's name that have the lobbyist's...potentially the lobbyist's tracking code on it, you have to wonder what the source really was."
The identifying number raised some eyebrows at the Statehouse because Ann Robinson, a partner in Preti-Flaherty's Augusta office, is a co-chair of the governor's transition team. She's also a lobbyist for clients such as the New York-based Toy Industry Association which opposed the Kid Safe Products Act that sets up a process for identifying toxic chemicals of concern in Maine; and the Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America known as PHRMA which Mike Belliveau of the Environmental Health Strategies Center says has also actively opposed Maine environmental legislation.
"The drug industry, which Ann Robinson represents, has been the number one opponent to make the drug industry pay for the takeback of prescription drugs at the end of their life so that they don't cause environmental harm or public health harm. And the drug industry is opposed to manufacturer responsibility for the products they make and Ann Robinson and the Preti-Flaherty firm have led the charge that has halted that from becoming law in Maine as of yet." said Belliveau.
PHRMA contributed more than 100 thousand dollars to the Paul LePage campaign for governor. And records from the Maine Ethics Commission show that over the past five years PHRMA has compensated Robinson nearly 40-thousand dollars for her work on its behalf. But the law firm has more than a dozen lobbyists representing a wide range of clients. Among them: paper companies, building contractors and energy firms including Calais LNG which paid Preti's chief lobbyist, Severin Beliveau, more than 130-thousand dollars over the past two years before withdrawing its application for a liquefied natural gas project. Beliveau declined to be interviewed for this story and in a brief telephone call Anne Robinson said the governor had tasked her with policy and regulatory review and it should come as no surprise that she helped compile the list of proposed reforms.
"I know that during the transition period that Ann Robinson, just like I did, relied on some of the staff within our respective organizations to help with logistics." said Tarren Bragdon of the conservative advocacy group the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Bragdon is also a co-chair for the governor's transition team. He says Robinson's job was to track suggestions from the red tape audit meetings and to help find the right candidates for jobs in the LePage administration, which also involved the use of her assistant at Preti Flaherty.
"So I think people who are conspiracy nuts might want to read into that. But people who understand what limited staffing we had during the transition period really need to appreciate that we were all looking for as much help as possible with really the massive job that we had." said Bragdon.
Bragdon points out that the governor's transition team also included members from other law firms and trade associations. And he says the idea that one particular firm's clients got special attention in a very public process is "ridiculous." But Matt Prindiville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine doesn't think so. "It doesn't surprise us that this document appears to have been written at Preti Flaherty. I mean many of the ideas that are in it don't correlate with what Maine businesses and Maine people have been saying at the red tape audits but they do correlate with the out-of-state corporate clients for law firms like Preti-Flaherty and others."
Others, such as the Pierce Atwood law firm, whose client list includes the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute and Casella Waste Systems. Last year, Casella alone paid more than $24,000 in lobbying fees. Recently, one of Pierce Atwood's lobbyists, Patricia Aho, was hired to serve as deputy commissioner in the Department of Environmental Protection. For these reasons, Sean Mahoney of the Conservation Law Foundation says his group is using Maine's Freedom of Access Act to ask the LePage administration to document who is behind the list of more than 60 proposed rollbacks that critics say would "gut" Maine's environmental protections.
"If, in fact, the major proponents of these assaults on the regulatory structure are big business and big law firms and not the folks who've been coming to the red tape meetings, then it's almost deceitful for the LePage administration to be selling it as something that it's not," Mahoney said.
A spokesman for the governor did not respond to a request for comment for this story. In the meantime, Tarren Bragdon, co-chair of the governor's transition team, says what's really important is to focus on the individual merits of each of the regulatory reforms.