Reporter’s Notebook

Recent Stories

How we got the LePage story

chriistie detail photo

In Nov. 16, 2010, Gov.-elect Paul LePage held his first press conference in the State House. Naomi Schalit, the Center’s executive director and senior reporter, and I cornered LePage, and told him we would be checking up on how he was doing. “Give me two years,” he said. I gave him two and half, figuring I would need some months after the two-year mark to gather data, do interviews and put the whole thing together. Continue Reading →

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On vetoes, Excel spreadsheets and cupcakes

Two weeks after she joined us, the Center’s new reporter Nell Gluckman offered this reporter’s notebook, sharing her impressions of the job, the statehouse and an upcoming assignment as a cupcake judge in Hallowell (that’s outside the scope of her work for the Center!):
“My first two weeks working at the Maine Center have exposed me to a whirlwind of new information and flurries of activity at the statehouse, paired with a gradual march into the depths of an idea that will soon be a story. Naomi and John have assigned me two stories that have allowed me to explore the world of Maine politics. On my second day they had me filing a Freedom of Access Act request and by my sixth I was talking to politicians all over the country about campaign finance reform. I’ve been poring over FEC records and creating my own Excel spreadsheets, but whenever I look up there is no shortage of happenings at the statehouse to distract me. During my first week, the House and the Senate were still in session and the statehouse was bustling with lobbyists. Continue Reading →

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Millett on business tax breaks: Expects legislators to question whether “such programs should remain intact”

Last week, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting published a story headlined, “Risky business tax breaks cost state $100 million per year.” At the time of publication, we had not yet received a response from the state chief budget officer, Sawin Millett, the commissioner of administration and finance. A response has since been sent to us, via email. Here is our question and his answer:

MCPIR question: Given the 2006 OPEGA study of 46 economic development programs (including related ”tax expenditure” data) rated some of those programs as “high risk,” why is the Governor continuing those programs? 

Millett: Quite simply, three Committees of the Legislature reviewed the OPEGA report over the 2007-2008 biennium and took no action to modify or eliminate those programs – with the single exception you have referenced – thus those programs have remained in statute. It is my personal expectation, however, that there will likely be specific proposals advanced, and considerable discussion had, during the current Session as to whether all such programs should remain intact, going forward. Continue Reading →

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Editorial based on Center’s ethics coverage

This legislative session, many of the bills to reform ethics were prompted by the Center’s report last year that gave Maine an “F” for anti-corruption measures. Here’s the Press Herald’s editorial from today on “revolving door” legislation making its way through the statehouse:

Maine should pass tougher ethics laws — Allowing regulators to move from public jobs to jobs in industries they once regulated is dangerous. Sometimes it’s bad to be too good. After decades of honest government peopled with principled members of both parties, Maine finds itself ranked near the bottom when it comes to tough ethics rules. States that have a culture of political corruption often have the strongest protections in their laws because they needed them. Continue Reading →

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Ethics training materials for incoming legislators

The National Conference of State Legislatures is one of our favorite organizations because — even though it’s set up to be a resource for legislators — it’s also a great repository of information for reporters who cover state government. When we want to see how Maine compares, say, to other states in laws on raw milk sales, the NCSL has a section on just that. And, of course, on many other things. Last week, when newly elected lawmakers came to the statehouse in Augusta for orientation and swearing-in, one of the events organized for them was a seminar on ethics, taught by Natalie Wood, an NCSL ethics specialist. We thought you’d be interested in the ethics materials Wood distributed to the lawmakers. Continue Reading →

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Curveballs, naked emperors and BS: post-election reflections of a reporter

German philosopher Max Weber said, “Politics is the art of compromise.”

And, Weber might have added: Elections are the art of exaggeration. We at the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting spent much of the spring and summer checking out the claims of the three major candidates for U. S. senate, focusing mostly on what they said they had done to fix the economy and promote jobs. What we found, with some modest exceptions, had more spin on it than a Sandy Koufax (you call look him up) curveball. But there’s more to be learned from politicians “practiced in the art of deception,” to quote the Rolling Stones, which I like to do whenever the opportunity presents itself. Now that the votes have been (mostly) counted, the TV ads silenced and the pundits (there are so many) either crowing or eating crow, we thought we’d try to find some broader meaning from our months of reporting. Continue Reading →

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The Center launches video section

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is happy to announce the launching of our video section. If you want to know what the inside of an investigative reporting organization is like, these videos will give you some insight.  

Our first video is an overview of how the Center gets its stories, as told by Center Publisher and Senior Reporter John Christie. The next video will feature U.S. Senatorial candidate Cynthia Dill, and will be posted in the coming weeks. Continue Reading →

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