AUGUSTA — Handwritten notes released Tuesday by the state ethics commission describe Thom Rhoads’ “obsession” with gathering information on independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.

Rhoads, husband of former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli, confirmed last week that he was one of two men behind the Cutler Files website, which sought to disseminate negative information about Cutler. The other was media consultant Dennis Bailey.

In response to a Freedom of Access Act request from several news outlets, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices on Tuesday released three confidential memos and notes taken by commission staffers during the investigation into the Cutler Files website.

The investigation was launched after a complaint was filed in September alleging that the site misrepresented Cutler’s record.

Last week, the commission took a final vote on a sanction against Bailey for his involvement in the site. The commission fined Bailey $200 for violating state campaign finance laws because the site did not list the names of the people behind it.

The same day, Rhoads publicly disclosed his involvement with the site after months of speculation in the media. Rhoads did much of the research that went on the website, while Bailey created the site and posted the material online. The commission did not find that Rhoads violated state law.

During an interview with ethics commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne and Assistant Director Paul Lavin, Rhoads described the research as his “pet project, obsession.” But he told ethics officials that his wife, referred to as “RS” in the notes, did not share his interest in Cutler.

“Oh God no, RS did not share the obsession,” according to Lavin’s notes.

When asked about Scarcelli’s attitude toward Cutler, Rhoads responded that she thinks “he’s a joke” and that she “didn’t take him seriously.”

A confidential commission memo states that Bailey didn’t see Cutler as a threat to Scarcelli and that he thought Cutler would “never get above 10 percent of the vote.” Cutler finished second in the race for governor with 37 percent of the vote.

Scarcelli never actually faced Cutler in the race for governor because she was defeated in the June primary. As an independent, Cutler didn’t run in a primary and was assured a place on the November ballot.

Last week, Scarcelli and her campaign manager, Patsy Wiggins, said they were focused on winning the primary and were not concerned with Cutler. Scarcelli said she did not know about the Cutler Files website until a friend told her about it after it went online.

Rhoads said the same thing to ethics officials, according to the released documents.

“RS did not know about website until it went live,” according to Lavin’s notes. “Her attitude was one of ‘eye-rolling.’“

The documents show that while Rhoads occasionally engaged in water-cooler talk about his research at Scarcelli’s campaign office, he did not use the office for his Internet searches.

In a Dec. 16, 2010, confidential memo to members of the ethics commission, Wayne attempted to describe Rhoads’ interest in Cutler.

“As to why the research was conducted, various witnesses described that Thom Rhoads was obsessed with Eliot Cutler, and driven to do the research,” Wayne wrote. “Rhoads used the word ‘obsession’ to describe his activities and Bailey called it ‘his (Rhoads’) own private little obsession.’“

In an interview last week, Rhoads said he became interested in Cutler when he found out from a neighbor, Cutler attorney Richard Spencer, that Cutler was returning from China to run for governor. He said he became increasingly concerned that the mainstream media wasn’t reporting much about Cutler’s background, so he teamed up with Bailey to put the information on a website.

Rhoads also tried to sell the information to the campaign of Democrat Libby Mitchell and the Maine Democratic Party for $30,000, the investigation revealed. Neither group purchased the information.

The documents released Tuesday also show at least one inconsistency in Rhoads’ story.

Wiggins, Scarcelli’s campaign manager, said Rhoads gave her a copy of the notebook containing the research and that she “put it in a drawer,” according to the commission. Rhoads told investigators he did not give Wiggins a copy of the information.

“It is possible that he forgot, or it is possible that he sought in his response to disassociate the research from his wife’s campaign,” Wayne wrote.

Another interesting side note came from independent gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody, who hired Bailey as a consultant after Scarcelli was no longer in the race. Moody said Bailey did not tell him of his involvement in the website, according to a confidential memo released Tuesday.

“Mr. Moody stated that, in retrospect, he suspects that Dennis Bailey was ‘between a rock and a hard place’ because of the Cutler Files website,” the memo said. “Had Moody known that Bailey was involved, Mr. Moody would have disapproved.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]