November 27, 2013

Winning bidder for new DHHS offices a major donor to LePage

Other builders who competed for the project questioned the process, but they don't think politics swayed the bid award.

By Jessica Hall
Staff Writer

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.

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In this Nov. 22 file photo, the State of Maine Department of Health & Human Services office building on Marginal Way in Portland. The developer whose company has been chosen to build and lease the new DHHS 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.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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PDF: Response letter to Bayside LLC's appeal

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.”

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