Two weeks ago in this column, with the help of Dalhousie University professor Mike Smit, I detailed a number of examples of plagiarism in the reports submitted by conservative consultant Gary Alexander as part of a $925,000 no-bid contract with the Le-Page administration.
Initial reaction from Gov. LePage seemed promising, and he promised to consider rescinding Alexander’s contract, but as the days have gone by his stance toward the plagiarism seems to have softened. It now seems less and less likely that Maine taxpayers will be getting our money back.
CHANGE IN TONE
“I am gravely concerned about these accusations and we will get to the bottom of it,” LePage announced in a statement that day two weeks ago. He promised “severe” penalties for the Alexander Group, telling the Bangor Daily News on May 23: “I will take every action we can. I am not happy about this.”
Speaking to reporters after a rally with the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine this week, however, LePage struck a very different tone about the report and the contract.
“We’re working on it now. We had a big meeting yesterday. We’ve had three evaluations done so we know where all the problems are. I’ll tell you this, my first look at it is the contract was poor quality as far as the writing, the punctuation and what we call an academic document. I have yet to find anything in the document that’s untrue. Even the liberal reports that they cited had some good points to make,” LePage said.
When a reporter asked, incredulously, “Why would you pay a million dollars for a report that was ripped off from other people?” LePage said he’d be meeting with the Alexander group this week, “and we’ll try to iron out our differences.”
I’m not sure exactly what differences need to be “ironed out.” If LePage really has conducted three evaluations of the report, then he knows that there were multiple instances of unattributed plagiarism from other sources. A few simple Google searches would have told him that.
It’s not like the report was a paragon of academic integrity previous to the latest plagiarism revelations, either. It contained strange and unfounded assumptions about poverty and economic impacts and a $575 million multiplication error.
Internal Maine Department of Health and Human Services emails obtained by the Portland Press Herald showed that even administration staff were looking for ways to distance themselves and their policy priorities from the tarnished report.
I’m also not sure why it matters that the report had “some good points to make” in Le-Page’s estimation. Of course he agrees with the results; he hired Alexander specifically because of their shared ideology. He was looking for some – any – justification for his plan to refuse federal funding and deny health care coverage to 70,000 Mainers.
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS
So what can explain this new hesitancy to ask for our money back? Two factors may be at play here:
• Legal experts have weighed in to say that the no-bid contract governing the Alexander Report has no explicit penalties for this kind of shoddy work. In order to get a refund, LePage might have to go to court and admit that the report is completely without value.
• Democratic leaders in the Legislature have continued their public efforts to get Le-Page to cancel the contract. This is a goal they’ve been pursuing for months, since the original problems with the report were revealed.
I thought their letter to the governor urging action was remarkably restrained (they never once wrote “I told you so!”), but LePage apparently didn’t take it that way. He fired back with a taunting, condescending missive that accused them of trying to score political points and warned them to “stay out of the executive branch’s business.”
LePage has since agreed to meet with Speaker Mark Eves and Senate President Justin Alfond on the issue, but not until after he’s back from a trip to Iceland.
GET OUR MONEY BACK
LePage often practices rage-based governance. If his exchange with the Democrats raised his hackles enough, I wouldn’t put it past him to ignore the plagiarism in the report and let hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money go to waste simply out of spite. He has a history of taking similar actions for similar reasons.
What LePage should do is follow the example of Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who this week withdrew his invitation for Alexander to appear before a congressional committee, citing the consultant’s academic dishonesty. LePage should similarly swallow his spite, cut his ideological ally loose and start working to get our money back.
Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at: