It was no surprise that Governor Paul LePage would seek to reform Maine's environmental regulations. He campaigned on a pledge to "get government out of the way" to "allow Maine's small businesses to create jobs." After the election, his transition team put together a series of "Red Tape Workshops" where Maine businesspeople clamored for a streamlining of the regulatory process, which even environmentalists concede can be unnecessarily slow and frustrating.
But when LePage unveiled his "phase one" regulatory wish list, many Mainers were gobsmacked. Instead of concentrating on removing alleged impediments to job growth, his 64-point plan amounted to a wholesale rollback of decades of environmental and product safety protections, including many measures that had no obvious benefit to Maine businesspeople, jobseekers, or the economy, and a few that were as likely as not to damage all three.
Indeed, with its calls to allow toxic substances back in baby bottles, children's toys, blankets, and municipal landfills, the list suggested the governor was more concerned with the interests of out-of-state corporations than the plight of local entrepreneurs.
The governor has continued to insist that "most of the proposals" he developed came "directly from business owners and managers who have attended the Red Tape Workshops," but the wish list itself tells a different story: it literally has the marks of corporate lobbyists all over it.
The official copy of the wish list LePage submitted to the legislature has lobbying powerhouse PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU & PACHIOS's distinctive eight-digit document tracking numbers stamped on each page, suggesting it originated not in Augusta, but at the law firm's offices at Portland's One City Center.
"For God's sake, if you're going to stab Mother Nature in the back, at least wipe your prints off before you drop the knife," said Representative Bob Duchesne of Hudson, the ranking Democrat on both the environment committee and the new regulatory-reform committee, which is tasked with reviewing the wish list. "I think this shows the lobbyists created the list and gave it back to the governor, who called it his own."
Duchesne's hunch is correct. The governor's communications director, Dan Demeritt, confirms that the document was compiled by Ann Robinson, the head of Preti's lobbying group, who served as co-chair of LePage's transition team and remains his head advisor on regulatory reform. "Ann Robinson is still advising the governor on regulatory reform matters," Demeritt told us last Friday. "Her computer is at Preti Flaherty, so that's why it has their stamp on it."
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"She's far from having decision authority on the final package," he continued. "The governor has looked through the list and his adviser as looked through the list and the governor said yes or the governor said no. But she's helping us stay organized and to put stuff together for us."
Organized, perhaps, but Robinson is hardly a disinterested observer. She and her colleagues at Preti Flaherty lobbied against several of the laws slated for repeal on behalf of corporate clients. Since the inauguration she's re-registered as the official lobbyist for PHRMA, drug maker MERCK, the TOY INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, and other corporations that will profit from the changes. Robinson — who didn't return our calls — has found herself in the enviable position of being able to ghost-write the governor's regulatory policies on behalf of her paying clients, even though they don't manufacture anything in Maine.