The LePage administration strongly denied a report Friday that the governor threatened to pull state funding for an Aroostook County cultural organization in 2013 unless the board removed its president.

The report, a blog post by liberal political activist Mike Tipping published by the Bangor Daily News, quotes a member of the World Acadian Congress board as saying she was told the governor demanded that the board remove then-President Jason Parent or lose $500,000 in state funding. In the same blog, Tipping quotes Parent as confirming the account: “When asked if the allegations that financial threats from Governor LePage forced him from his role as president were true, Parent said simply, ‘I can confirm that is the case.'”

But on Friday, Parent refused to comment directly on the allegations that LePage pressured the board, or to confirm Tipping’s account.

Tipping’s post prompted Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett to issue a news release Friday in which he condemned LePage and called for a review of the matter by lawmakers and state and federal authorities.

However, LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, and the co-chairman of the board for the World Acadian Congress who allegedly heard the threat firsthand, both strongly denied the account.

“Did Governor LePage ever threaten to pull funding from the World Acadian Congress? No,” Bennett wrote in a lengthy email response.

George Dumond, co-chairman of the congress, also disputed Tipping’s report and said Bennett’s email was accurate.

“The facts in the email from the Governor’s office are correct,” Dumond wrote in an email Friday. “They clearly did a better job at getting to the truth than Mike Tipping.” Dumond continued: “Some may choose to portray us as a committee trying to protect the Governor. We have no motive nor do we have anything to gain by doing so. The truth is the truth.”

Tipping said Friday evening that he stands by his story.

He said that Parent and a board member, Anne Roy, both told him that the governor threatened to withdraw state funding for the congress unless Parent was removed as president.

Tipping admitted his account “is certainly secondhand” because neither Parent nor Roy ever received the threat to withhold the money directly from the governor’s office.

“But they haven’t lied to me in their stories,” Tipping said. “I don’t see any reason for them to lie to me.”

The World Acadian Congress hosts a two-week-long cultural festival every five years for people of Acadian heritage, many from northern Maine and the eastern Canadian provinces. The congress was most recently held in 2014.

The Tipping blog quoted Roy as saying she was told the governor demanded the board remove Parent or lose $500,000 in state funding. Tipping said six other board members confirmed Roy’s account, but would not allow themselves to be quoted or cited by name. Other board members quoted say they heard about the governor’s concerns from others but did not have firsthand knowledge of it.

According to the blog, Roy said the governor was upset that a commemorative license plate created to raise funds for the organization had been presented first to then-U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who later unsuccessfully challenged LePage for governor.

Roy did not return calls for comment Friday.

In an email Friday, Parent said he “agreed to step down” from his post on the board 2½ years ago.

“Despite repeated requests by the media and others to publicly tell my story, I have not chosen to do so, and have moved beyond the situation,” Parent wrote. “Because my heart was still with this project, I chose to not disclose the behind-the-scenes machinations that I was presented in order to avoid any fallout for the event and cause.”

Parent did not respond to emails asking him to directly confirm or deny that he told Tipping he resigned because of a financial threat from the governor.

The state ultimately provided $1 million in state funding for the congress, the full amount pledged over four years.

Bennett’s rebuttal disputed virtually every assertion in the blog post and characterized it as an unfounded political and “unethical” attack.

“Will anyone buy it?” she wrote. “No.”

In her email, Bennett questions not only the content of the blog but the ethics of publishing it on a news site.

“Did Tipping use speculation, second-hand accounts and hearsay from Anne Roy and Jason Parent to claim the Governor threatened to pull funding? Yes,” she wrote. “Will Tipping and Maine People’s Alliance do anything, say anything and orchestrate anything, no matter how outrageous or unethical, to try to oust the Governor from office? Yes. Does the BDN publish Tipping’s blog prominently on its homepage as if it is news? Yes. Do BDN editors use Tipping as an attack dog to do their dirty work, then throw up their hands and say, ‘Oh, he’s just a blogger. He doesn’t report to the newsroom.’? Yes.”

Tipping works for the Maine People’s Alliance and writes a freelance political column for the Portland Press Herald.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.


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