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Maine's Largest Environmental Group Rips LePage's 'McCarthy-Like' Targeting of Donors

Steve Mislter
NRCM Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann addresses the media Thursday at an Augusta news conference.

Gov. Paul LePage is sending letters to select donors of the state’s largest environmental organization urging them to end their financial support.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine says the letters are taxpayer-funded harassment reaffirming the governor’s anti-environment record, and LePage may discover that the letters will have the opposite effect of what he intended.

Lisa Pohlmann received one of the governor’s letters, and it’s probably safe to say that she will not be persuaded by a LePage missive that describes the NRCM as pushing “job-crushing, anti-business policies.”

“After working for 57 years in Maine, we can say with total confidence that Gov. LePage is the most anti-environment in history,” says Pohlmann, executive director of NRCM.

It would appear from that statement she’s not ambivalent about the organization she oversees, or the governor. Pohlmann told reporters at the State House that recipients of the governor’s letter — people who have already given the organization money — feel the same way.

She says they are outraged — so outraged, that the letter could spur more, not less, financial support. That may be why Pohlmann and other NRCM supporters used words like “bully,” “intimidation” and “disturbing” to describe the governor’s decision to hunt down the addresses of the group’s donors.

“This seems like something Sen. Joseph McCarthy would have done in the 1950s, not a governor of Maine in 2016,” Pohlmann says.

“Well, if there’s anything McCarthy-like about giving out the facts and the true intentions behind NRCM’s actions during the legislative session and throughout the year to its members, it is what it is,” says Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokesperson.

Bennett says the letters are designed to educate NRCM members about the policies the group is pushing and opposing.

“The governor is trying to get out information about what NRCM is trying to do,” she says. “They have been backed by lobbyists who are spending millions of dollars and they use Washington-style politics to get their way. And the governor is pushing back.”

It’s true that NRCM has been a staunch opponent of the governor’s bid to allow mining in Aroostook County, supportive of a national monument in the North Woods and an advocate for renewable energy.

But Bennett’s claim that NRCM spent millions lobbying the Legislature is overstated. According to state lobbying reports, the group paid one lobbyist a little over $20,000 during the last session. That’s about half of the $43,000 SunRun, Inc. paid its lobbyists to help LePage defeat a landmark solar bill this year — legislation NRCM supported.

Lobbying data don’t always capture a group’s influence at the State House, and NRCM is influential here. It has been a leading opponent of the LePage administration, beating back a host of LePage proposals that would have loosened environmental regulations.

In response, the governor has declared war on the NRCM. Earlier this year his office posted a wanted poster of an NRCM lobbyist outside of a town hall in Bath. And, during the Republican State Convention, he promised more hostilities.

“This summer you’re gonna hear an awful lot about a little war that’s developing between one governor and a whole lot of rich nonprofits around the state of Maine, because the Natural Resources Council of Maine has got to go,” he says.

Pohlmann says she knew the conflict would get ugly when she saw the wanted poster. But she wasn’t prepared for the governor authorizing his staff to look up the names and addresses of the group’s donors.

LePage officials declined to say how much state tax dollars were used to generate the letters, but said the names of about 200 donors were taken from the group’s website. NRCM, like other nonprofits, does not have to disclose the identities of its donors.

“Actually I wasn’t anticipating something this personal to our members and that really was the line-crosser for us,” Pohlmann says. “You know, we’ve got to stand up for the hundreds and thousands of people who support NRCM and say this has got to stop.”

But for now, Pohlmann says, the group plans to help the governor distribute the letter to all 16,000 of its donors. And, she says, the group won’t discourage the additional support — financial or otherwise.