Friday, September 7, 2012

Virtual schools in Maine: LePage adviser tries a diversion

My Maine Sunday Telegram investigation on full-time virtual charter schools and digital education policy seems to have gotten the attention of Gov. Paul LePage's inner circle.

LePage's political adviser, Brent Littlefield, called up WGAN's morning news program Wednesday to denounce a "falsehood" in the article: that in one of three references to K12 Inc.'s $19,000 contribution to LePage's candidacy via the Republican Governor's Association PAC, the wording suggested the money had been given directly to LePage's campaign organization. If there are such blatant falsehoods, Mr. Littlefield asserted, how can we trust anything in the piece?

First things first: yes, the wording of that first reference inadvertently got changed in a way that made it incorrect. Of course the RGA Maine PAC didn't direct the $19,000 to LePage's campaign organization -- such donations are capped at $750 by law. The reason such PACs exist is precisely to get around such spending caps. We've corrected the wording online and put a clarification in print.

But the point that was actually being made was that K12 Inc. contributed $19,000 to help get LePage elected, which is absolutely true.

Littlefield is of course well aware of the RGA Maine PAC's role in the 2010 gubernatorial election. The PAC -- whose purpose was to get the Republican nominee elected to the Blaine House -- spent over a million dollars in support of LePage or to oppose his opponents.

On October 11, 2010, K12 kicked in two payments totaling $19,000 (see page 3 of the PAC's disclosure here). Over the next 72 hours, the PAC made ad buys totaling over $356,000, about half spent in support of LePage (on the radio) and the other half on negative ads targeting his opponents, Libby Mitchell and Eliot Culter (on television; see page 5 of the same document.)

During the interview, Littlefield also displayed a surprisingly poor understanding of what the article was actually about, suggesting he hadn't bothered to read it before hopping on the phone for a little spin work.

I suppose Littlefield is just doing his job, but I don't think WGAN's listeners will appreciate being manipulated in this way, especially over a what is actually a minor fact in the story, and one that isn't even news, having been reported on nearly two years ago.

I'll be on WGAN this morning to set the record straight and to encourage listeners to read the piece and the sidebar, even if Littlefield hasn't.

[Update, 21:29: link to this morning's interview added.]


  1. Colin, you seem to enjoy attributing actions and words to people without a basis for attribution. I call that "advocacy journalism" although the respected national reporters with whom I work seem to think that those two words should never be placed together - I tend to agree. I did read your article, multiple times prior to the interview. You ran a similar piece after the election in a different publication. A recycled concept. You might make it sound deep and scary but when you strip away the background music it is just what it is - a contribution to an unconnected PAC. Your "report" is high in innuendo and low on substance. - Brent Littlefield

  2. Anonymous "Brent" - The *generous* interpretation would be that you/Littlefield hadn't read the article. Your comment here could only be taken as further evidence that you -whomever you are -- haven't read the piece. (Hint: it's not an article about K12's political donation to the RGA Maine PAC.) We wouldn't be talking about it at all if you/Littlefield hadn't taken it up.

  3. With more and stronger hurricanes each year and worst Natural Disasters World Wide, how are we provoking this and what do we need to do to better this?