AUGUSTA – In February, the largest state employees union questioned why some workers had received email solicitations from the Maine Heritage Policy Center. At the time, the conservative think tank was led by Tarren Bragdon, who had co-chaired the transition team of Gov. Paul LePage.

A labor lawyer said the fundraising appeal had come close to violating a section of Maine’s civil service law prohibiting state officers and employees from using their “official authority, influence or supervisory position” to solicit political contributions from other employees or influence them to engage in political activity.

Now, Republicans are accusing the same union, the Maine State Employees Association, of doing the same thing.

On April 19, an undetermined number of state employees received a mass email from the union notifying them of a new “membership benefit.” For $35, they could join a bulk heating-oil purchase program through Dem Corps, a nonprofit organization based in Saco.

A sign-up form attached to the email displayed a symbol of a donkey and the slogan “Democrats Building Community.”

Chris Quint, the union’s executive director, serves on Dem Corps’ three-member board of directors.

Rep. Gary Knight, a Republican from Livermore Falls, said a state worker who received the email complained about it, saying it was promoting one political party over another.

Knight said he believes the email was inappropriate, if not illegal. “When we are at work, we should be doing the state’s business, not promoting an ideology,” he said.

MaryAnne Turowski, the union’s chief lobbyist, said that Dem Corps isn’t affiliated with the Democratic Party, and that the email was intended only to notify members of a benefit.

She said the union’s executive board decided recently that it would stop promoting the program as a benefit to union members.

It is unclear what the benefit was because the program is open to everyone who lives in York, Cumberland, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc and Kennebec counties. About 500 families are signed up.

Dem Corps was formed in 2006 by Democratic activists in Saco to build loyalty to the party. Its goal is to replicate the social protection networks that party ward bosses ran generations ago, without the corruption and patronage that led to their demise, the founders said at the time.

The nonprofit is not affiliated with the party, said the group’s president and executive director, Al Sicard of Saco.

He said Republicans may join, too. He said the $35 fee covers administrative costs and is not used for political activity of any kind.

“It’s all about community building, not politics,” he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at

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