AUGUSTA — A California web developer probing the source of photos an anonymous website used to illustrate negative stories about a Democratic mayoral candidate in Lewiston says he has uncovered information linking the photos to the executive director of Maine’s Republican Party.

The web developer, Tony Perry, decided to try to figure out who created the content after he saw a news story about an ethics complaint Democrats filed Tuesday accusing Republicans of working with the secretive Maine Examiner website to spread bogus stories that derailed Ben Chin in Lewiston’s mayoral runoff.

Perry said he poked around enough to determine the ownership had been masked online, which is fairly common.

Then he downloaded some of the pictures the Examiner had run and looked at the metadata that sometimes provides information about the origin of photographs.

He quickly found some that carried the name of Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage as the author.

“‘Who’s this Jason Savage?'” he said he asked himself, “so I just Googled him.”

Perry contacted the Sun Journal and the newspaper subsequently examined the metadata embedded in six pictures on the Maine Examiner site that originated from Savage’s computer. One, a picture of independent gubernatorial hopeful Alan Caron, was copied to Savage’s computer from Caron’s website as recently as last week. It wound up as the artwork for a campaign finance story by the Maine Examiner.

The metadata shows it was created at 5:02 p.m. on Jan. 17 and the story was posted on the Examiner website 14 minutes later. It is possible that the time stamps do not accurately reflect the actual times involved, and it’s also possible that someone using Savage’s computer copied the images and sent them to the Examiner.

On Dec. 4, an online photograph of Chin was copied onto Savage’s computer, the metadata shows. The copied picture, titled “chin-profile-two,” wound up illustrating a story that ran the following day on the Maine Examiner.

The story, written by “Administrator,” took issue with the mayoral hopeful’s use of the word “revolution” in an email to campaign supporters in October. It was part of a series of stories the Maine Examiner published before the Dec. 12 Lewiston mayoral runoff supporting Republican Shane Bouchard’s successful bid to defeat Chin.

At least six times in December and January, other pictures that passed through Savage’s computer wound up on the Maine Examiner’s site, the metadata shows, prompting some Democrats and critics of the Maine Examiner to claim that there is a tie between the anonymous site and Savage.

Chin said the data shows “a very clear connection” between Savage and the Examiner, which Democrats charge is a violation of state campaign finance laws and a serious ethical breach.

Savage hasn’t addressed the allegations he is connected to the right-leaning online publication and did not respond Tuesday or Wednesday to repeated requests for comment from the Sun Journal.

That his name appeared as the pictures’ author is not proof that Savage had a direct tie to the stories that ran with them.

The Maine Democratic Party filed a complaint this week with the Maine ethics commission alleging that Republicans worked hand in hand with the Maine Examiner to spread slanted and thinly sourced news stories to advance its political agenda. The complaint said state law requires disclosure of the political party’s assistance and funding and alleged Republicans have kept it under wraps.

Phil Bartlett, the Maine Democratic Party chairman, said Wednesday the revelation about Savage’s photos illustrating Maine Examiner stories shows “the Maine GOP has stooped to a new low, proving that they are willing to go to unprecedented levels to deceive people in order to accomplish their political goals. They should be ashamed.”

He said the state’s Republicans “peddled misleading and inaccurate information, tried to hide behind the safety of anonymity, and then lied about it to the people of Maine – likely breaking the law.”

“This proves that the Maine Democratic Party’s complaint is justified, and that the investigation we requested must move forward,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said that “every Republican leader in Maine – including the gubernatorial candidates – should condemn this dishonest behavior and tell the people of Maine that their party should not be led by liars like Jason Savage” and political and communications director Garrett Murch.

“We call on Republicans to ensure that Savage and Murch, along with their shameful behavior, no longer have a home in Maine politics,” Bartlett said.

The Maine Examiner, which began publishing this past fall, is not listed as a business organization with the Maine secretary of state. It doesn’t list any owners or staff, but its website notes it is run by “a small group of Mainers.”

Its stories are often one-sided, delivering the news from a conservative perspective. Savage has sometimes shared them on social media.

In a Jan. 17 piece on its website, the Examiner said it “may produce some news content that liberals and progressives don’t want you to read, but we get our facts straight and we provide the proof to back up our claims.”

Chin, who lost his mayoral bid by 145 votes, said nothing surprises him about how Savage and the Republicans operate. He said some people, including Savage, “enjoy scoring little points and making people feel bad” instead of pursuing politics as a way of making a better world.

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CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:27 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2018, to correct the name of California web developer Tony Perry.