August 23, 2010

Cutler, Mitchell camps upset by 'trackers' with video cameras

Democrats took heat for the practice in 2008 and now say the GOP is using it as an 'intimidation tool.'

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

The Maine Democratic Party and the campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell are complaining about the behavior of a campaign tracker paid by the Republican Governors Association.

Similar complaints were raised by independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler's campaign about a different Republican tracker earlier in the year.

Trackers, used by Democrats and Republicans alike, are typically paid to videotape candidates at public appearances and other campaign events.

But Arden Manning, coordinated campaign director of the Maine Democratic Party, said the tracker following Mitchell is going too far.

"If it's a public event, I don't really care," he said. "The concern that I have is that it looks like the (Republican Governors Association) has tried to use tracking more as an intimidation tool, where they try to throw the candidates by having the tracker sort of right there all the time, as opposed to just trying to record a statement, which up until this point tracking has been used for."

Manning said photos released by the Mitchell campaign show Ryan Terrill, the Republican Governors Association's tracker, just a few feet away from Mitchell speaking to potential voters. A Maine Democratic Party news release also said Terrill recorded volunteers holding signs in the Winter Harbor Lobster Festival, even though no gubernatorial candidate was present.

"I don't have a full-time tracker right now, but we may in the future," Manning said.

He said instructions for any paid Democratic tracker would be to record public comments, never record private conversations, don't record interviews with reporters, never lie, be respectful, be polite and only record the candidate.

Manning said he was involved in the 2008 Maine U.S. Senate campaign between Democrat Tom Allen and Republican Susan Collins, when Democrats took heat for employing a tracker who closely followed the senator in a local parade.

He said the incident made the Democrats set up different ground rules for their trackers to give candidates more space.

"It's a juvenile thing to begin with and it's the kind of thing that really turns people off to politics, particularly partisan politics," said Ted O'Meara, campaign manager for Cutler.

Republican Governors Association spokesman Tim Murtaugh said he hasn't seen anything to lead him to believe his trackers are doing anything inappropriate.

"If the candidates are that worried about young people with cameras, then they have bigger problems than they know," he said. "We give our trackers very clear instructions: Be passive observers and never a participant in any event; do not actively engage the candidate; do not be aggressive or overly aggressive; do not be disruptive, be polite; when you are asked who you are and who you represent, tell the truth; and if asked to leave an event, make every effort to be able to stay, but in the end don't cause trouble.

John Morris, chief of staff for Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, said the campaign had no opinion about trackers in general.

"We haven't paid anybody, we have no intention of paying anybody to be a tracker and, to be honest, I know nothing about it," Morris said.

O'Meara, of the Cutler camp, said if LePage denounced the practice the Republican trackers would leave.

"The tracker is being paid by the Republican Governors Association to help Paul LePage. And if Paul LePage finds the practice distasteful, like the vast majority of Maine people, all he has to do is call the RGA and say, 'Call this off,' " O'Meara said.

 

COOLIDGE CLAMBAKE

The Maine Republican Liberty Caucus is hosting a "Calvin Coolidge Clambake" at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Italian Heritage Center in Portland to raise money to help legislative candidates who embrace the idea of smaller government.

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