October 27, 2010

Website attacking Cutler still a mystery

MaineToday Media experts are trying to identify its creators, and the state ethics commission is investigating.

From staff reports

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The affidavit said the motivation for the site is "purely personal," and that the idea did not emerge until this summer.

Spencer told the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices that it should not accept the affidavit at face value and should instead launch an investigation. If the commission finds the website's creators have spent more than $100, it should require them to file an independent expenditure report, he said.

Spencer said Maine voters have the right to know how much has been spent on the website, who is paying for it and whether they have been acting in concert with a political campaign, political party or political action committee.

More than a month ago, Wayne interviewed Dennis Bailey, president of Portland-based Savvy Inc., about the site. Bailey, a former reporter for The Portland Press Herald and the campaign spokesman for Rosa Scarcelli, a Democratic candidate for governor in the primary, said he was not subpoenaed.

He said he called the commission because a member of Cutler's campaign staff had accused him of being the author of The Cutler Files and he wanted to make it clear that he is not.

Bailey said he was willing to testify under oath, but Wayne never got back to him.

Controversy over the website doesn't help Cutler politically because it gives the site more public attention, Cutler said in an interview Monday. He said he raised the issue with the ethics commission because he wants to protect the integrity of Maine's election laws. Such campaign tactics are "poisoning" the state's political culture, he said.

The website tries to poke holes in Cutler's resume and attacks his character, calling him a "phony and a fraud."

Cutler said it's particularly upsetting that the site holds him responsible for the deaths of 39 people in Georgia in 1977 when a dam collapsed.

While Cutler was working in the Office of Management and Budget in the Carter administration, according to the site, OMB officials delayed the paperwork that was necessary to release the funds to pay for the dam inspection, despite warnings that many of the nation's private dams could fail.

The website details the horrors of the dam collapse, including witnesses' accounts and a video of the destruction.

"It makes me sick that people will do this," Cutler said.

He said he's almost certain who is behind the site, but he would not identify the authors.

"Until I prove it, I am not going to lower myself to that level of integrity," he said.

The Portland Press Herald has been contacted by several people who anonymously identify Bailey, Scarcelli and her husband, Thomas Rhoads, a writer and researcher, as authors of The Cutler Files.

Scarcelli said in an interview that she and her husband have nothing to do with the website and that the rumors of their involvement are offensive. She said she hasn't even seen the site.

"I have absolutely nothing to do with The Cutler Files, and I haven't even looked at the website," she said. "Eliot Cutler is playing the victim, and people in Maine want him to man up."

In an e-mail to the Press Herald on Tuesday, Rhoads said: "I can unequivocally state that I am not the author, owner or creator of The Cutler Files, nor did I post any information on it or any other website. I have not been contacted or interviewed by the ethics commission. I don't know why my name is being brought into this. It's pure rumor."

Anonymous speech is constitutionally protected, said Dan Billings, an attorney who has been hired by The Cutler Files' authors to represent them before the ethics commission. During colonial times and the early decades of the United States, writers often adopted pseudonyms to attack politicians in essays published in pamphlets and newspapers.

In today's world of blogs and anonymous comments on newspaper websites, anonymous speech is even more accepted, he said.

"On the Internet, there is even more of a tradition and expectation that people can speak both freely and anonymously," he said.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell contributed to this story.

 

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