By:Dave Sherwood @Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting |
The Legislature’s investigative arm launched a preliminary inquiry of the state-sponsored Maine PowerOptions electricity program Feb. 17, a month after a story by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting raised questions about the group’s transparency, oversight and benefits for its members.
The inquiry will be conducted by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA), the legislature’s investigative arm. Maine PowerOptions, which is operated as a program of the Maine Municipal Bond Bank, has received no legislative scrutiny since its inception in 1999.
Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor, who requested the inquiry, said his goal is to shed light on a program that he believes to be well-meaning, but that lacks transparency in its decision making.
For the first time in 16 years, staff of Maine PowerOptions appeared before lawmakers Feb. 2 to explain how the quasi-state electricity consortium brings together hundreds of municipalities and school districts across the state to help them buy power.
Part 1: Five years after a scandal at the Maine Turnpike Authority landed its director in prison, a quasi-state program — Maine PowerOptions (MPO), which brings together municipalities, school districts and other state nonprofits to purchase electricity in bulk — lacks transparency and effective oversight.
Part 2: Both a confidential state probe and a subsequent independent investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, including a review of a confidential agreement between Maine PowerOptions and its electricity supplier, raise questions about whether the quasi-state program is living up to its original mission of saving Maine taxpayers money.
Here at Political Party Time, we took a break from chronicling campaign shindigs when the 2014 election season ended. But we’re back now, dressed up in our best party clothes and working harder than ever so that you don’t miss any of the fun. And there’s lots of wine, beer, cheese and crackers to be had, as the political fundraising season shifts into high gear. (For the most up-to-date list of events, scroll through the Political Party Time schedule at right, provided through our partners at the Sunlight Foundation.)
We don’t actually go to any of the fundraisers that we write about. It would be unethical for us as non-partisan journalists to pay – er, contribute – money to political candidates, their parties or their PACs. Continue Reading →
A Portland resident has filed a complaint with the state ethics commission alleging that the PAC controlled by Diane Russell, a candidate for the state senate and a current member of the House, may have made fraudulent campaign finance filings. “If people know the right questions to ask then the voters can be more informed,” said Michael Hiltz, who filed the ethics complaint against the PAC controlled by Russell. Continue Reading →
Starting next month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is going after contractors in the Lewiston-Auburn area who are failing to follow the law that requires them to remove lead paint safely.
Improper removal of lead paint during renovation is one of the ways lead can poison adults and children. Between 2009 and 2014, there were 467 Maine children identified as lead poisoned and 97 of those children were from the Lewiston-Auburn area, where the lead paint problem is the most severe in the state. Continue Reading →
Since 2013, Rep. Diane Russell’s “Working Families PAC” paid her a total of $7,747 of its total expenditures of $39,583. Unlike other so-called leadership PACs, where most of the money raised goes to support fellow party members’ electoral ambitions, Russell’s PAC gave only $1,550 in contributions to Democratic candidates or organizations. Continue Reading →
The Department of Environmental Protection will resume releasing data on oil rail shipments in Maine, reversing a five-month policy that kept the information out of the public eye.
Just last month, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting filed a Freedom of Access Act request for the monthly data. The DEP, acting on the advice of the Attorney General’s office, decided that the oil data summaries were not covered by a new and controversial law that meant to make hazardous material rail shipments secret. Continue Reading →
A 2015 law that ended the public’s right to know about hazardous freight on Maine railways sidestepped normal legislative processes, ignored federal policies and overcame a gubernatorial veto. Now even the law’s sponsor agrees it needs to be changed. Continue Reading →
The Government Oversight Committee wants to know if “any particular demographic groups or regions of the state” are specifically targeted by the state lottery’s advertising, and “who has responsibility for overseeing those decisions.”
The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability will also determine how winning a lottery prize may affect a person’s eligibility for public benefit programs. Continue Reading →
Reacting to an investigative series by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, the legislature’s Government Oversight Committee has voted unanimously to fast-track a study of the Maine State Lottery. Panel members are keen to learn if the Lottery’s advertising strategy specifically targets Maine’s poor. Continue Reading →
Wealthy donors from across the country have sent nearly $100,000 to the Maine Democratic Party as part of a coordinated fundraising program called the Hillary Victory Fund. But not all of that money is staying in the state: 40 percent of it has already been transferred to the Democratic National Committee. Continue Reading →