There’s been a lot of talk in Augusta about fraud and abuse in Maine’s anti-poverty programs, but very little action or evidence to warrant the level of political rhetoric. Maine people understand that fraud should not be tolerated in any form, but they also know that most people aren’t abusing the system ”“ less than one-third of 1 percent of EBT transactions are fraudulent.

But no matter how few cases of fraud there are, there are effective ways to combat fraud, abuse and wasteful spending. There are also ineffective political stunts that make a mountain out of a molehill, and unfortunately, that’s what we’ve seen as a result of Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to hire Gary Alexander, a political hack with a track record of shoddy work, to evaluate Maine’s anti-poverty programs.

Last September, with no public process or notification to lawmakers, Gov. LePage handed a $1 million, no-bid contract to the Alexander Group to analyze Maine’s existing anti-poverty programs. When word spread about the Alexander contract in Maine, red flags were raised about Alexander’s mismanagement and failed policies during his time as head of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. During his tenure in Pennsylvania, Alexander cut health care for nearly 90,000 children and initiated a “reform” that cost taxpayers $7 million.

One of the best predictors of future success is past performance, and Gary Alexander’s past performance did not inspire much confidence.

Despite the red flags, Gov. LePage took $1 million from a program that helps struggling families, many of whom are escaping domestic violence, get back on their feet, and instead gave the money to Alexander and the Alexander Group.

Their first report was several weeks late, based on flawed assumptions and inaccurate data, and included a $575 million math error. Then, earlier this month, we learned that not only was their newest report nearly five months late, but it was littered with pages of work done by others ”“ plagiarized.

This is an embarrassment to the State of Maine and a waste of taxpayer dollars. 

Policy decisions should be made based on unbiased data and independent studies. The Alexander Group has delivered political position papers with skewed data. The latest report even offers policy recommendations that have already been rejected by the Legislature.

Earlier this year, I voted with many of my colleagues to terminate the contract with The Alexander Group, but Gov. LePage vetoed the bill and his Republican allies sustained that veto. Had the governor worked with us when we expressed our concerns, we might not have handed over hundreds of thousands of dollars for late, ideological, fraudulent, plagiarized reports.

Gov. LePage has now expressed interest in pursuing a refund of the money Maine taxpayers have already paid Alexander. I wholeheartedly support any efforts we can take to recover these funds. Maine people shouldn’t be expected to foot the bill for such shoddy workmanship.

Maine people are honest, hard workers, and we expect the same from others. We know that claiming other people’s work as your own is as dishonest as it is lazy. Gov. LePage should immediately cancel the Alexander Group contract and get back our money. Maine people deserve better.

— Sen. Linda Valentino is a Democrat who represents the communities of Senate District 5: Buxton, Dayton, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and part of Biddeford.