Thursday June 07, 2012 | 04:10 PM

Grover Norquist’s national anti-tax group criticized Maine U.S. Senate candidate Rick Bennett today for not taking its pledge to oppose any tax increases.

Bennett, meanwhile, said Norquist had “willfully distorted” Bennett's views and record to protect his own influence in Washington.

American for Tax Reform, a group founded by the conservative activist and lobbyist, issued a news release saying “Bennett has left the door open for tax hikes on Maine taxpayers and small businesses.”

The group didn't  immediately say why it singled out Bennett, one of three Republican candidates in the race who have not sgned the pledge.  The others are Maine Sen. Debra Plowman and Attorney General Bill Schneider, according to the group's website.

Americans for Tax reform cited a statement on Bennett’s campaign website saying “everything should be on the table” in order to balance the budget and cut the national debt.

“By refusing to sign the pledge and leaving tax hikes on the table, Rick Bennett joins the ranks of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and President Obama,” Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said in the group’s news release. “Given the importance of small businesses to Maine’s economy, Rick Bennett’s openness to higher taxes should cause voters who support Bennett to reconsider.”

Bennett said he was the target of the news release because he is one of the three front-runners in the race. The other two – state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Secretary of State Charlie Summers – have signed the group’s tax pledge. The sixth Republican candidate, Scott D’Amboise, also has signed, according to the group’s website.

“This is a willfull and intentional distortion designed to preserve (Norquist's)  power rather than fix the problems of the country,” Bennett said. “I’ve said that all spending needs to be on the table.... When asked a question I’ve said I am not going to vote for tax increases. Public statements are not enough for Grover Norquist, he needs you to sign a piece of paper.”

Bennett also said he has a clear anti-tax record in the Maine House and Senate. “Comparing me to Nancy Pelosi ... is really absurd on its face. I served 12 years in the Maine Legislature and never voted for a tax increase. Actions speak louder than words.”

Bennett pointed out that he voted against a $300 million increase in a variety of state taxes in 1991, while Summers voted for it. The budget bill included a new snack tax and an increase in the gasoline tax and was part of  a deal to overhaul Maine's workers' compensation system.

Summers said the taxes were temporary and part of a package that, on balance, lowered costs for businesses. "That was in the context of a state shutdown over workers' compensation," he said.

It is a very different economic situation 20 years later, Smmers said, and he signed the pledge because it's clear that the federal government is overspending. "What we have to do is address spending issues. I'm not willing to entertain tax increases."

Bennett maintained he is committed to cutting spending and not raising taxes, too. But he also said he won't be pressured into signing a pledge.

“I believe there are abuses in our tax code that are used to fund corporate welfare,” such as subsidies for wind farms and ethanol producers, he said. “I don’t want to be held hostage to Grover Norquist for voting to clean up these petty outrages in our tax code.”

 

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Open Season is your guide to the 2014 campaign. Our team of political writers has its sights set on Maine’s major elections, from the Blaine House to the U.S. Capitol.

Steve Mistler is covering the 2014 governor's race. He covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.
Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @stevemistler

Eric Russell is covering Independent Eliot Cutler during the 2014 governor's race. He is a general assignment reporter for the Portland Press Herald.
Eric can be reached at 791-6344 or erussell@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @pphericrussell

Matt Byrne is covering Republican Paul LePage during the 2014 governor's race. He covers Falmouth, Cumberland, North Yarmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport for the Portland Press Herald.
Matt can be reached at 791-6303 or mbyrne@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @mattbyrnePPH

Randy Billings is covering Democrat Mike Michaud during the 2014 governor's race. He covers Portland City Hall for the Portland Press Herald.
Randy can be reached at 791-6346 or rbillings@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @randybillings

Kevin Miller is covering Maine's U.S. Senate race and 1st Congressional District race. He covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @kevinmillerdc

Michael Shepherd is covering Maine's 2nd Congressional District race. He is a news and State House reporter for the Kennebec Journal.
Michael can be reached at 621-5632 or mshepherd@centralmaine.com
On Twitter: @mikeshepherdME

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