AUGUSTA — Yes, he registered as a lobbyist four times during his 36-year career as a lawyer. Yes, his law firm represented oil companies. But did independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler work for big oil companies as a lobbyist for most of his career?

No.

The flap over a mailer from the Maine Democratic Party continued the day after Cutler demanded that Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell repudiate it during a public forum. On Friday, her campaign declined to do that.

“Libby believes that communications from the Republicans, the Democrats and Eliot’s PAC should be truthful and that if Eliot believes something to be untrue, he should rebut it,” said Dave Loughran, spokesman for Mitchell.

“We’re not in a position to go fact-check every piece of mail or commercial that’s out there,” he said. “The Democratic Party has presented their evidence saying it is factual, Eliot Cutler is putting his evidence out there saying it’s not factual, the voters can decide which one of them lines up.”

Mitchell, as a publicly funded candidate, is barred from coordinating her campaign with the party or any other political action committee, but she can ask them to stop making mailings or running advertisements on her behalf.

During a forum hosted by the Natural Resources Council of Maine in Portland on Thursday, Cutler became visibly upset with Mitchell for not denouncing the mailing.

“Eliot Cutler has been working as a lobbyist for big oil companies most of his career,” the mailing says. “Helping companies like BP loosen offshore oil and gas drilling restrictions. Cutler helped China National Offshore Oil Co. try to buy a major American company – but that risky deal was forbidden by Congress because putting oil reserves in China’s hands was a risk to national security.”

Ted O’Meara, campaign manager for Cutler, said the mailing is “sickening.”

“This is a guy who began his adult working career helping U.S. Sen. (Ed) Muskie write some of the most landmark, most important environmental legislation in this country. To have his entire career trashed by this mailer, calling him an oil company lobbyist, I think is just really sickening,” O’Meara said.

O’Meara said Cutler did register as a lobbyist four times in his career, most of which was spent as a lawyer in Washington, D.C.

On three occasions, Cutler registered so he could brief members of Congress on separate airport expansion projects on which his firm was working.

The final time, Cutler briefed a member of Congress about a case that his firm, Akin Gump, was working on to force the federal government to clean up nuclear waste from a spent-fuel reprocessing plant in New York, the Cutler campaign said.

Akin Gump is one of the largest lobbying and law firms in Washington, D.C., and Cutler has been a partner with the firm since 2000. O’Meara said he assumed that Akin Gump had some oil companies as clients, but the two facts do not make Cutler a “lobbyist for big oil.”

In a release Friday, the Maine Democratic Party said Akin Gump was paid at least $4 million for lobbying on behalf of oil companies such as BP, Hess, Conoco Phillips, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell and Sunoco since 2001, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“It’s very clear that Cutler was a partner in a company that made millions of dollars by working with large oil companies, and you know Cutler himself made money off of that work as a partner,” said Arden Manning, chairman of the Democratic Victory 2010 campaign.

Cutler also started and ran Akin Gump’s office in China, living in Beijing for more than two years, according to his campaign biography.

O’Meara also rebutted the Maine Democratic Party’s allegation that Cutler helped a state-owned Chinese company try to buy Union Oil Co. of California, which is now part of Chevron. The deal failed.

Manning said the assertion was made based on a quote from Cutler to Chinese media in 2009.

“the time the client came to us and asked for our help to get the deal approved, the deal unfortunately already was structured in a way that failed to take into account the political significance of foreign ownership of oil and gas reserves located in the U.S.,” Cutler said in the Global Times, a Chinese publication.

O’Meara said Cutler was not directly involved in the 2005 deal, but was discussing how the situation should have been handled for success. The Chinese company was more interested in acquiring Asian-held assets, not oil and gas holdings in the United States, O’Meara said.

“The point is that (Cutler) or the team that he was working with, would have advised them to have a U.S. partner,” said O’Meara, explaining Cutler’s comments.

“Because there were some assets in the U.S., that raised all the red flags and got Congress involved,” he said. “What he was saying was, strategically, looking back several years, was, ‘If you had come to us earlier, we would have advised you and helped you find a U.S. partner that would have kept the U.S. assets — what you didn’t really want — and allowed you to acquire the Asian assets, which you did really want.”‘

Manning of the Democratic Party said his group stands by its mailer.

not asking her party to retract the statements, O’Meara said, Mitchell is tacitly agreeing with it.

“Whatever you think of (Cutler), he has principles,” O’Meara said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@mainetoday.com