Anonymity is bad for voters


Let’s be real.

Despite claims by the Maine Democratic Party, the Maine Examiner did not single-handedly sink Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin’s campaign last month.

The Examiner certainly took a position, and a self-interested one at that, in what has historically been a nonpartisan race. But that is what politics is all about. Winning the seat.

In a five-way race for mayor, Chin took 42 percent of votes in the first round in November, to survive a runoff with GOP-backed Shane Bouchard.

If we look at the race as a pure numbers game, Chin’s runoff chance was not terribly healthy from the start because many of the voters who supported candidate Mark Cayer and most who supported Ron Potvin were more likely to support Bouchard than Chin. The math was openly discussed almost immediately, so the current mind that Chin’s race fell apart only after the Examiner took up its sword is a stretch.

Here is what the Examiner did do:


It posted – mostly correctly – that Chin ignored a bunch of parking tickets, the website’s operatives rightly expecting voters would frown on that.

The Examiner also released uncomfortably candid emails that Chin wrote to campaign workers, and that were leaked from his campaign, telling workers he had encountered racists while knocking on doors downtown. Are there racists in Lewiston? Yes. Has Chin probably encounter some? Yes. But, his choice of wording was harsh and politically easy to attack, so the Examiner pounced.

The Examiner defines its efforts as reporting the “news,” but that is not accurate. The purpose in all of the information it posts is to support conservative ideals by criticizing all things and all people liberal.

That is not news. That is well-executed, political posturing.

That is what the Examiner does.

Here is what the Examiner doesn’t do:

Tell people that its work is politically driven, or reveal who is funding that work or producing it. Those refusals run counter to credibility.

All of this is really too bad, because the site, which relies heavily on opinion and rhetoric, posted facts during the Chin campaign that were later verified by trusted news sources. The Examiner could have held its head high for those efforts, but instead decided to remain mired in mud.

The Maine Democratic Party is right to complain.

There are strict campaign finance laws in place to protect voters, because informed decisions are based on knowing who funds campaigns and how much they are spending.

That is why, in newspapers, you see “This ad was paid by” on every political advertisement. We are required to tell readers who is paying to support campaigns and candidates, and also who is paying to oppose the same.

The cost of those advertisements must be included on campaign finance reports, which are available to the public.

Accountability cannot exist in the dark, and anonymity does not earn trust.

The Maine Democratic Party’s complaint, filed with the Ethics Commission, accuses the GOP of violating campaign finance laws by using the anonymous Examiner as a political arm for campaign purposes. Whether the complaint has merit remains to be seen, but filing the complaint was entirely appropriate, if only to air the dispute through official channels so voters will know the truth. And we want the truth.

The GOP has denied all connection with the Examiner, but there is strong evidence to suggest that the GOP’s executive director is heavily if not directly involved. And, since the political work of the executive director is the political work of the GOP, the connection demands scrutiny.

It is worth noting that the Examiner site has a mirror twin called the Maine Beacon.

The Beacon does much the same work as the Examiner in terms of advocating and extolling its political agenda, but unlike the Examiner it operates in the open and is clearly marked as a project of the Maine People’s Alliance — where Chin is the political engagement director.

Another difference is that the authors of many articles published in the Beacon are identified, unlike the anonymity of the Examiner.

What they have in common is that both offer decidedly biased content designed to mimic news sites.

Recognize them for what they are: political promotion.

That’s not news.