The developer whose company has been chosen to build and lease new offices for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Labor has been a major contributor to Gov. Paul LePage’s election campaigns.
Eric Cianchette of ELC Management and his family have close ties to the LePage administration and a history of prolific financial support for the Republican Party.
Cianchette’s company was chosen from among four bidders for the contract to move the DHHS offices from their longtime home on Marginal Way in Portland, where the state’s lease is set to expire next year.
ELC Management’s proposal for an 80,000-square-foot building in South Portland, near the Portland International Jetport, has been criticized by DHHS clients and other developers for moving social services off the Portland peninsula to a less accessible location.
The building, which the state would lease for 20 years for about $43 million, also would house the Department of Labor offices, which are now on Lancaster Street near downtown Portland.
One of the losing bidders, Tom Toye of Bayside LLC, unsuccessfully appealed the selection of ELC Management on Nov. 6, arguing that it was invalid “because of irregularities creating fundamental unfairness and because it was arbitrary and capricious.”
But the written appeal made no reference to political influence, and Toye said in an interview Tuesday that he was unaware of Cianchette’s contributions.
“I don’t have any information on that. I can’t really say anything on that,” Toye said.
According to reports from the state ethics commission, Cianchette made the maximum contribution of $3,000 to LePage’s re-election committee in 2012. He supported the governor in 2010, giving him $1,500, the maximum amount allowed at the time for an individual donor.
Cianchette gave a total of $10,000 to the Maine Republican Party in 2011, and he has supported party candidates for the Legislature.
He also has contributed to conservative causes, including a 2004 ballot question committee called Tax Cap Yes! that fought for a property tax cap in Maine cities and towns.
Cianchette is a cousin of Peter Cianchette, who lost to Democrat John Baldacci in the 2002 gubernatorial race.
Eric Cianchette’s son, Mike Cianchette, was LePage’s chief legal counsel for about a year before he deployed to Afghanistan with the Navy Reserve earlier this year.
Eric Cianchette did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
H. Sawin Millett, Jr., commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said the department’s Bureau of General Services which selected the winning bidder, followed procedures set out by the Legislature to ensure fairness and transparency.
“To do otherwise would not only be illegal but a disservice to Maine’s hardworking taxpayers,” Millett said in a written statement. “The consolidation of DHHS and DOL into one location reduces costs, increases efficiencies and allows these departments to better serve the public.”
The three other bidders for the project are politically active, although less so than Cianchette.
Kevin Bunker of Developers Collaborative gave two donations to LePage that totaled $300. He also gave $250 to state Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, according to reports from the ethics commission.
Tim Soley of East Brown Cow Management has donated at least $3,000 to progressive causes and Democratic candidates since 2002, including $750 to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli in 2010.
Campaign finance records show that Toye donated $250 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Poliquin in 2009.
None of the three said they think that political donations or influence played a role in the selection process.
“I don’t think it was a factor at all,” said Bunker. “The state has a right to decide what they think is best.”
Soley said he thought the scoring system was subjective and he was surprised that a suburban site was chosen as the future home of the DHHS. But he didn’t think that politics played a role in the scoring.
“I know Cianchette. He’s as far right of center as I am left of center. Our politics are as opposite as can be and I trust his intentions completely,” said Soley. “I don’t believe in any way he used influence or political sway.”
In June, the Bureau of General Services requested proposals to relocate the DHHS and Department of Labor offices. It got four: two for downtown Portland, one near the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, and the project near the airport.
Using a scoring system that considered location, cost and other factors, the state selected the plan for the airport property, which is undeveloped.
Cianchette does not own the property. The owner is Brooklawn Memorial Park, according to the South Portland assessing office, and the property is valued at about $373,900.
The Bureau of General Services provided the scoring sheet that showed ELC Management ranking highest, but the sheet includes no explanation for the scoring. The winning bid was not the lowest-cost proposal.
The state has until Dec. 15 to negotiate a final agreement with ELC Management.
In its appeal, Toye’s company, Bayside I LLC, said ELC Management doesn’t own the site for the development, failed to demonstrate its insurance coverage, and would require the state to cover any construction-cost overruns. The appeal also said that the scoring of the proposals was “arbitrary and capricious.”
The appeal noted that the project would put the DHHS and Department of Labor offices a quarter-mile from the closest Metro bus stop and almost a mile from the closest South Portland bus stop.
Bayside I proposed a building on Lancaster Street, which would have kept the offices in the area where they are now.
The appeal was denied on Nov. 20 by Bureau of General Services Director Edward Dahl, who concluded that ELC Management had been chosen because it scored highest on the criteria in the state’s request for proposals.
James Gemmell, director of communications for Opportunity Alliance, a nonprofit group that works with residents who use DHHS services, said it may be a challenge for some to get to the new location.
“We would love for the department to stay in its current location” near downtown Portland, Gemmell said. “Transportation is always a challenge in our community.”
Fore River Co., the landlord for the DHHS location on Marginal Way, said it was the state’s decision to move.
“Fifteen years ago, our location was chosen for the convenience for DHHS and its clients, as well as access to the bus route,” said Peter Quesada, principal with Fore River. “There were some very good alternatives downtown that the state chose not to select.”
Fore River did not bid on the relocation because its 50,000-square-foot building isn’t big enough to accommodate the Department of Labor and DHHS offices. It is now talking to other potential tenants to replace the DHHS after it moves.
This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday to include a statement by H. Sawin Millett, commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
Staff Writer Steve Mistler contributed to this report.
Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:
This story was updated at 2:16 p.m. on Nov. 27, 2013, to correct the ownership and value of the parcel of land in South Portland.