Report: LePage Administration Threatened to Cut Funding

Investigators have determined that Maine Governor Paul LePage's administration threatened to cut state funding from a charter school, unless it fired his political opponent, Speaker of the House Mark Eves.

A 27-page report by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA, was released Tuesday.

"We think we fully understand that a threat was made," said OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft. "I think the big question is: is that an appropriate thing to have happened?"

The investigation started when Democrat Speaker Mark Eves announced he was fired as President of charter school Goodwill Hinckley. Eves claimed that Governor LePage threatened to withhold more than $500 thousand in state funding for the school, unless the school rescinded its job offer.

LePage has admitted to making the threat, but he denies that it was "blackmail." The Republican Governor has argued that he was acting within his authority to use discretion with state funds, and made the threat because Eves had voted against charter school legislation and was unfit for the job.

"The facts in this report just confirm there was blackmail, and it worked," said David Webbert, an attorney representing Eves. "We can't live in a state where the Governor can blackmail the Speaker of the House."

Webbert said the OPEGA report will help him in a civil case against the Governor.

Members of the Government Oversight Committee say the next step in the process is to hold a public hearing, scheduled for October 15.They have not decided if they will subpoena anyone in particular to testify before the committee.

Governor LePage did not cooperate with the OPEGA investigation, citing the pending lawsuit from Speaker Eves.

Legislators do not agree on the weight the OPEGA report will carry. Some say it paves the way for impeachment, others say it contains no new information.

"There seem to be a lot of loose ends," said Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-Chelsea). "I think there's still a lot we need to discover." Sanderson added that she thinks the Governor was right in his concerns about Eves leading the charter school.

But a group of Democrats and Independents in the Legislature say this report could be the first step in the impeachment process.

"It is a misuse of public assets," said Rep. Jeffrey Evangleos (I-Friendship). "This is about the rule of law, and holding someone accountable to it."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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