AUGUSTA – A state employees union is questioning why some state workers received e-mail solicitations from a co-chair of Gov. Paul LePage’s transition team on behalf of the conservative think tank that the official heads.

Tarren Bragdon sent out a fundraising e-mail Feb. 4 on behalf of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Chris Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, which represents most state workers, said 10 employees have complained to him about getting the solicitation, and he assumes that many more received it.

The employees want to know how Bragdon got their e-mail addresses and whether the solicitation violated a law that prohibits state officers and employees from seeking political contributions from state workers, Quint said.

Bragdon said he did nothing wrong, because he never was on the state payroll and the people who received his e-mails had at some point given the center their e-mail addresses. He accused his critics of conducting a “witch hunt.”

“When you don’t like the message, attack the messenger. That’s politics 101,” Bragdon said.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center has advocated for the reduction of state worker benefits and staffing levels. Bragdon held a news conference Wednesday to argue that Maine has more state workers than the national average and to call for the elimination of more than 3,800 state jobs.

Quint said the employees told him they hadn’t gotten previous e-mails from the think tank and don’t know how the organization got their government e-mail addresses.

James Case, a labor attorney based in Brunswick, said Bragdon came close to violating a section of Maine’s civil service law prohibiting political activity, Title 5, section 7056-A.

The law prohibits officers and employees, including executive branch employees, from using their “official authority, influence or supervisory position to solicit political contributions from other employees or influence them to engage in any kind of political activity.”

Bragdon stepped down from LePage’s transition team on Feb. 11, a week after he sent his e-mail solicitation.

In the e-mail, Bragdon discussed his role on the transition team and said that the “professional Left” is on a crusade to destroy the think tank because it has been so effective.

“The Left is raising substantial amounts by promising to come after us full bore,” Bragdon wrote. “Your gift today assures that we have the resources to compete and win.”

Bragdon worked as a volunteer when he co-chaired the governor’s transition team. The think tank continued to pay his salary.

Bragdon said he never was a state employee and so could not have violated the civil service law.

“This is so ridiculous,” he said of his critics’ complaints. “I am not a government employee. I was never a government employee.”

But Case said Bragdon may have violated the “spirit and intent” of the law because even though he wasn’t a state employee, he had enormous influence over state workers as co-chair of the transition team, which recruited commissioners and helped draft the governor’s budget.

Case said every state employee was effectively a subordinate of the transition team, and Bragdon was wrong to ask for contributions from state workers while working on the team.

Bragdon said the solicitations were automatically sent to everyone on the organization’s e-mail list. He said some state employees might have inadvertently gotten on that list when they checked out information on the think tank’s website, www.maineopengov.org.

For example, users must give their e-mail addresses to access a database of the salaries of state workers. The think tank then sends an automated e-mail within two days informing people how they can be removed from the e-mail list, Bragdon said.

He said the state workers who complained may have forgotten that they provided their e-mail addresses and neglected to ask to be removed.

Bragdon said he would never target state workers for solicitations and wouldn’t know how to get their e-mail addresses.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at:

tbell@mainetoday.com