An independent candidate for governor complained to a national Republican group this week about a woman it hired to follow him and other opponents with a video camera.

Eliot Cutler called it a juvenile practice that distracts from real campaign issues and turns off voters.

The Republican Governors Association had a simple response: Get used to it.

It’s not the first time a so-called tracker has been hired to videotape opposing candidates in Maine in hopes of catching a blunder or a misstatement worthy of posting on YouTube.

In 2007, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ staff complained after a tracker for the Maine Democratic Party videotaped her as she walked in a parade and chatted with people along the way.

“It comes off as a little out of place or a little odd here in Maine because you don’t see it very often,” said Mark Brewer, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine. But, he said, “I think it is coming soon to more races near you.”

Cutler sent a letter to the association Monday complaining about its tracker, and about what he considers the woman’s dishonesty. He released the letter to the media Wednesday.

The woman had been contacting Cutler’s campaign office for weeks, asking when and where he would appear at campaign events, Cutler wrote. Then he happened to meet her at a candidates forum in Skowhegan.

“I asked her what she did and she told me that she worked at the deli counter in a supermarket in the Portland area,” Cutler wrote in the letter. “She said that she just happened to be in our state capital of Augusta and decided to continue going north to hear the candidates speak.”

As the forum began, the woman got up and started videotaping Cutler. A Republican candidate told him, “She’s with the RGA,” he wrote.

“Your party’s employment of a paid tracker at this early stage of the campaign — especially one who deliberately lies about who she is — unfortunately leads me to conclude that Maine voters are going to be treated this year to more of the same old slash-and-burn politics that has turned off so many people,” he wrote.

The association has no plans to stop rolling the videotape, a spokesman said Wednesday.

“It tells us we’re going to need to follow him around a lot more, if it bugs him so much,” said Tim Murtaugh.

Murtaugh said the woman hired in Maine, Lauren Chatmas, is trying to get video of all the Democratic and independent candidates.

“We don’t know who our opponents are going to be,” he said. “Obviously, what you’re trying to do is capture moments when people are inconsistent or contradict themselves. Campaigns that are not doing this are missing the boat.”

Chatmas did not lie to Cutler and does work at a deli counter, according to Murtaugh. She simply answered the questions without elaborating, he said. “She goes to campaign events all the time with a video camera. It’s not like she’s trying to conceal what she’s doing,” he said.

Chatmas referred questions to the Republican Governors Association.

Officials with the Maine Democratic Party and the Democratic Governors Association said Wednesday that they haven’t hired any trackers to videotape opposing candidates here, but they didn’t rule it out as the fall election approaches.

“We have them in other states. It’s early to say” about Maine, said Emily DeRose, spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association. “Maine is an important state for us to hold.”

Cutler sent copies of his letter to the Republican candidates, asking them to repudiate “both this juvenile practice in general and the RGA’s dishonest approach about it.” None has done so publicly.

Steve Abbott, a Republican candidate, seemed to share Cutler’s view of trackers when he was Collins’ chief of staff in 2007 and wrote a letter to the Maine Democratic Party.

“Tactics such as tracking demean the political process, contribute to voter cynicism and have no place in the type of substantive issues-oriented campaigns that our voters deserve,” he wrote.

Abbott’s spokeswoman, Felicia Knight, said Wednesday that Abbott’s criticism was focused on the intrusive and intimidating nature of the tracker who was then assigned to Collins.

“On the other hand, he has absolutely no objection to people who are going to be videotaping public events and public speeches,” Knight said.

Brewer, the political scientist, said it makes political sense for an independent such as Cutler to make an issue of the political tactics of the major parties. On the other hand, he doesn’t expect the practice to go away, even in Maine.

“I think the potential payoff (of hiring a tracker) is so much higher than a little bit of blowback from the initial news that they’re doing it,” Brewer said.

Cutler’s campaign treasurer, Robert C.S. Monks, is an investor in and a board member of MaineToday Media, which publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel daily newspapers, the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and their respective Web sites.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com