AUGUSTA – A consultant who worked for Republican gubernatorial candidate Les Otten said Thursday that he wrote and paid for an automated phone call on the night before the June 8 primary that attacked Otten’s opponent Paul LePage for his stance on civil unions.

Michael Dennehy said he didn’t ask Otten or his campaign manager, Edie Smith, for permission before recording the message and sending it to 7,289 Maine households.

The phone call became an issue last month, when the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices started an investigation because the call contained no disclosure, as required by law.

“I did it personally,” Dennehy said. “I didn’t try to get authorization. (Otten and Smith) didn’t know anything about it until about an hour ago.”

On Wednesday, the ethics commission released documents related to the investigation in response to a request from the Kennebec Journal.

The documents show that on July 6, the commission’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne, wrote a letter to Michael Mahoney, a lawyer in Hallowell, after Mahoney called to say he had a client who wanted to take responsibility for the automated call.

Wayne sent Mahoney a series of questions that were due back to the commission by Thursday. Through a spokesman, Dennehy then contacted the Kennebec Journal and offered to do a phone interview.

Dennehy, founder and president of The Dennehy Group in Concord, N.H., has been a senior adviser to the two presidential campaigns of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He also has worked for candidates in Vermont, Rhode Island, Texas and Arizona, and is a former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

He said he was unaware he had done anything wrong until he read a news story in late June about the ethics investigation.

“I’ve never, in 20 years, knowingly violated election law,” he said. “I came forward and wanted to get the issue settled.”

Otten, reached while driving back to Maine after meetings in Washington, said he was “speechless” when informed by Dennehy.

“Mr. Dennehy had no authority, no responsibility, no directive, no hint of direction, no discussion and no motivation from any person inside or outside the campaign staff, relatives or workers to act as he did,” Otten said. “It was a complete rogue action, was despicable and unacceptable by any standard.”

Dennehy said he moved forward with the call when he heard that LePage had distributed fliers critical of Otten just before the June 8 primary election.

He said he went online to gather information about LePage’s stance on civil unions, and quickly put the call together. It cost $200.

“It’s a great lesson to be learned by me that you have to be particularly careful in the final hours of a campaign,” he said, adding that he was unaware of Maine’s disclosure laws.

The call questioned LePage’s “moral values” on the issue of same-sex civil unions.

LePage opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, but supports “civil law contracts” to define property rights, wills and power of attorney, according to his campaign.

John Morris, campaign manager for LePage, said he was unaware of the newest development in the investigation and was not traveling with LePage on Thursday.

The call apparently had little, if any, impact on the election. LePage won the party’s nomination with 37 percent of the vote in a seven-way race, while Otten finished a distant second, at 17 percent.

The ethics commission began investigating the call when Bob Stone of Auburn filed a complaint because the call didn’t indicate who paid for it or whether it was authorized by another candidate.

Others complained, too, including a Democrat from Waterville who e-mailed the commission about the call, according to documents from the commission.

“As a Waterville resident and a staunch Democrat, I make no bones about the fact that I really don’t like Paul LePage,” wrote Edward Lachowicz. “However, I am also a supporter of keeping politics clean and above-board, and this attack on him was definitely dirty politics and below the belt.”

Smith, who managed Otten’s campaign and has worked on other campaigns in Maine, said the final hours before an election are always carefully scripted.

“It’s unusual a consultant would do anything at any point in the campaign without consulting with the candidate and the campaign manager,” she said. “It’s unusual, disheartening and disturbing.”

Otten, a former minority owner of the Boston Red Sox and the founder of American Skiing Co., had other management problems during the campaign.

When he launched his website, critics immediately accused him of copying a logo from President Obama’s campaign. And in May, an employee of Smith’s who worked on the campaign resigned after it was discovered that he had plagiarized material from a conservative think tank and passed it off as Otten’s words.

Otten paid Dennehy $30,000 in consulting fees and a small amount of money as fuel reimbursement over the course of the campaign, according to finance reports on file with the ethics commission.

The automated-call issue may be taken up by the commission on July 29 or Aug. 26.

Otten said he found the situation difficult to comprehend.

“It’s extraordinarily stupid,” he said, “coming from someone who had been in charge of a presidential campaign in New Hampshire.” 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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