Playing to win: Conservative think tank Maine Heritage Policy Center rankles left with activism, anonymous donors

PORTLAND — John Piotti says he pays no attention to the Maine Heritage Policy Center . . .  and then quickly admits he's being flippant.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Tarren Bragdon CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center in his Portland office.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Tarren Bragdon CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Tarren Bragdon CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center center in conference with office manager Sandy Cleveland left, and research assistant Kyle Pomerleau.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Amanda Clark development associate at the Maine Heritage policy Center.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Sandy Cleveland office manager at the Maine Heritage policy Center.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Kyle Pomerleau research assistant at the Maine Heritage policy Center.

In reality, Piotti, a state legislator, and his Democratic colleagues are becoming increasingly wary of the free-market think tank and its quest for increased political influence.

“I don't ignore them, I take them seriously,” said Piotti, the representative from Unity. “And because they're often misrepresenting the truth, I take them particularly seriously.”

Piotti's criticism is extensive and shared by Democrats, who have been forced to fight several ballot initiatives shepherded by the policy center and its attempts to spread its ideology of limited government.

Democrats have cause for concern. The center was created by a handful of board members in 2002. Today, 36 individuals, including six staffers, work to advance its causes. The center has become increasingly influential, leading tax-reduction initiatives, offering research urging smaller government, running training seminars on how to get politically involved and hosting political forums, usually involving conservative candidates and conservative causes.

The center is perhaps best known for introducing two versions of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights — fiercely debated tax cap proposals rejected by voters in 2006 and 2009. Despite those defeats, the organization has continued to engage voters in traditional hot-button issues, including health care, education and taxes.

The center's position on taxes will sound familiar to voters.  The organization says the state is overtaxed and unfriendly to business, and has rolled out several position papers to make its case.

It has also fed the public's oft-held suspicion that government is too wasteful. It recently published the names and salaries of every state employee on, and linked it to the center's homepage.

According to the center, the site has received more than 100,000 unique visitors.

Piotti and other critics, however, claim the center has cloaked itself as a "scholarly research center" while advancing policy embraced by the extreme right and Libertarianism, a movement currently marshaled nationally by factions of the tea party.

The nonprofit organization also faces allegations that its increased involvement in this year's gubernatorial election pushes, if not violates, the political lobbying limits allowed by its tax-exempt status.

The center's political activism is made more relevant after a recent report in The New Yorker magazine detailing the tea party's billionaire benefactor, Koch Industries. The modern-day oil baron has funnelled millions into the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity group.

According to the story, AFP is at the nexus of a national web of like-minded nonprofits set up as analysis centers to produce policy papers challenging climate science and regulation of the financial industry. Billed as education positions, the analysis papers ultimately benefit the organization's anonymous corporate donors, the story says.

The furor over AFP would seem distant from Maine politics if not for the group's similarities to the Maine Heritage Policy Center. The connection is more than resemblance: Two months ago AFP started a Maine chapter and began partnering with the policy center to hold activist training seminars.

Further, AFP-Maine is headed by Trevor Bragdon, the brother of Tarren Bragdon, the 34-year-old CEO of the policy center.

Tarren Bragdon, a former two-term legislator from Bangor, deflected accusations about the center, saying they're politics as usual and a byproduct of the organization's successful engagement in state economic policy.

"We're confident in the integrity of the center and its work," Bragdon said during an interview at the center's headquarters in Portland. "If people want to attack us, that's fine."

Despite hosting events with keynote speakers like Maine GOP gubernatorial hopeful Paul LePage and Marco Rubio, a tea party candidate from Florida running for U.S. Senate, Bragdon insists the center is as nonpartisan as its IRS filings say it is.

"What we want to see is a particular policy enacted," he said. "If a Republican does that, great. If it's a Democrat, great. . . . Obviously one party is going to align with our philosophy more often than the other."

Bragdon denies that the center's policies are dictated by ideologies of the tea party or libertarianism.

"We're not anarchists," he said. "We're not anti-government, although we get labeled that by some extreme folks on the left."

Accusations of extremism

The center's pursuit of the electorate has been facilitated by its grass-roots activity. It has engaged local chambers of commerce and provided activist training that appeals to voters dissatisfied with the economy and government.

With Bragdon at the helm, the organization has also worked to engage the media, and its advisers have earned column space on newspaper opinion pages.

But critics say people influenced by the center might not be aware of its strict adherence to a free-market ideology or its connections on the far right.

Kit St. John, the executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning nonprofit whose roots extend to 1993, said Bragdon's organization has no interest in improving government.

"Our suspicion is that they only want to denigrate government, take it apart," St. John said.

St. John also refutes Bragdon's claim that the center operates independent of  extreme forces on the right, pointing to the inviting of GOP operatives including Grover Norquist to its events.

"We see their approach to be characterized by the famous quote from (Norquist)," St. John said. "He said he doesn't want to abolish government, he just wants to shrink it to a size that it can be drowned in a bathtub. That's an extreme statement."

Bragdon, who has several copies of Norquist's book "Leave Us Alone" in his Portland office, responded via e-mail, "(St. John) is quoting Mr. Norquist, known for his colorful comments, from 2001. He is not quoting me or The Maine Heritage Policy Center. Our mission is clear: We promote free-markets and limited government in Maine."

St. John also alleged that the center has engaged in promoting Republican candidates, a practice he believes violates its tax-exempt status.

According to IRS rules governing 501(c)3 organizations, the center is not allowed to participate in any "political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate."

However, the line is made famously vague by a provision allowing organizations to "educate" voters through outreach "if it's conducted in a nonpartisan manner."

Bragdon flatly denies that the center endorsed LePage during a July 6 luncheon also attended by Rubio.

"We did not endorse Mayor LePage, Marco Rubio, and any of the numerous other candidates or elected officials of both political parties who attend our events," Bragdon said. "We don’t endorse candidates. Period."

Pushing the limits

Michael Franz, an associate professor of government at Bowdoin College, has noticed the policy center's willingness to engage in political elections, including the gubernatorial race. In addition to holding events in which LePage was a keynote speaker, Franz said he anticipates the center will attempt to steer voters through carefully crafted candidate evaluations on their website. 

"They've been increasingly active in a wider variety of controversial issues," Franz said. "More than likely they're taking advantage of the lax regulatory environment in terms of how political they can be."

Franz referred to recent court decisions loosening rules on just how much nonprofits and corporations can get involved in elections.

"They're responding to the rules of the game," he said. "They would probably make the case that what they're doing is permissible within the First Amendment, which the courts have recently been amenable to."

Franz said the center is like other conservative groups "willing to push the limits for the strict reason that they don't believe those limits are just."

"For some people, that's a good thing," he said. "To them it's information to make informed decisions. For others, it's a way to influence decisions that takes the power out of the hands of voters."

Franz said the center's critics might feel more comfortable if they knew who was behind its funding, and by extension, its policy initiatives.

The sources of any nonprofit's donations are private, although some organizations disclose more information than others.

St. John's group, for example, publishes annual reports listing all of its donors. However, the donations are not itemized, making it impossible tell who gave how much.

Bragdon describes the policy center's donors in general terms. The organization's most recent IRS filing showed about $1.3 million in contributions. Bragdon said 50 percent came from competitive grants awarded by foundations that give to free-market think tanks.

The rest, he said, is from 1,300 individual donors and corporations, most from Maine.

Bragdon didn't specify which foundations awards the grants. However, the center belongs to the State Policy Association, which has links to Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the Mercatus Center, tentacles in the so-called Kochtopus. 

Bragdon refused to say if Koch Industries or Americans for Prosperity helped fund the policy center.

"There's this myth that we're funded by a handful of really big corporations," he said. "That would be great if that were the case. It would make my life a lot easier than working with 1,300 individuals."

Bragdon said St. John's requests for the center to disclose donations are a double-standard.

"Why do folks on the left want to know so badly?" he asks. "To what end?"

The center has a history of shielding its funding sources. Following voter rejection of the first TABOR referendum in 2006, the organization attempted to withhold campaign finance reports associated with its lobbying efforts.

The state Ethics Commission eventually ruled that the group had acted as a ballot question committee, which is similar to a political action committee and subject to campaign finance disclosure law.

The center's subsequent filing, released under protest, didn't identify individual campaign contributors, just a withdrawal from its treasury.

In 2009, the center collaborated with Maine Leads on TABOR 2 and a ballot measure proposing dramatic cuts in motor vehicle excise tax. Despite receiving nearly $400,000 from three national organizations to push the ballot initiatives, Maine Leads never registered as a PAC.

The Ethics Commission eventually levied a fine of $10,000. According to Jonathan Wayne, the commission's executive director, he and his staff advocated for a higher penalty.

"We felt this was a sophisticated operation well aware of its requirements," Wayne said. 

Maine Leads officially dissolved earlier this year with some staffers joining the policy center. Trevor Bragdon, Maine Leads' grass roots director, departed for Americans for Prosperity.

Rising influence

The Maine Heritage Policy Center was founded in 2002. It received the coveted 501.c.3 nonprofit status in 2004, allowing donors to write off contributions.

Over that period, the center's donor funding has increased more than sevenfold. The policy center's most recent IRS filings show donor contributions close to or exceeding those of MCEP, founded 17 years ago.

Although voters' 2009 rejection of TABOR 2 was decisive, the organization has since elevated its profile, frequently testifying on bills at the state Legislature and publishing policy papers on its website.

Bragdon, who describes himself, as a "recovering politician," said operating in the political realm was required to advance the center's agenda.

Its initiatives have not been tepid. In addition to playing a bit part in the successful effort to repeal the 2009 tax reform law – legislation Rep. John Piotti spearheaded – it has since tackled issues nationally and locally. 

Recently, the center threatened to sue the city of Portland over its effort to regulate a 19-year-old man who was providing free taxi service on Peaks Island.

During the health-care debate, Bragdon co-authored an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal warning about the perils of the national health care bill. He's identified as the CEO of the policy center and an adjunct fellow with the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank whose board of directors includes Bill Kristol and other conservative icons.

Before becoming the center's CEO in 2008, Bragdon performed health-care policy analysis for the Empire Center, a Manhattan Institute offshoot. 

Despite Bragdon's connections to the web of free-market institutes, the center's CEO insists most of his organization's work is done independently. 

But the connection has riled the center's critics, who claim its goal is to dismantle government.

According to St. John, the site, with its listing of state employee salaries, illustrates his point. St. John called the move a cynical hijacking of transparency to foster public mistrust in government.

"It was a showy show of transparency," St. John said.

Bragdon disagreed, pointing to the site's 100,000 unique visitors, many state employees.

"If publishing that information is uncomfortable for some reason, then there needs to be a conversation about why it's uncomfortable," he said.

Despite its critics on the left, the Maine Heritage Policy Center's anonymous  funding sources don't seem to bother the right. In conservative blogs, Bragdon is often mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office. Bragdon, a father of four adopted children, all under age 4, said public office isn't a consideration, at least not now.

In the meantime, Bragdon said he's content pushing the center's philosophies into policy. He is confident the national health care law will be overturned and his group will work to make sure it is.

Despite its collaboration with high-profile conservative think tanks, he said he'll work with any party that advances the center's agenda.

"I don't like to fight as much as I like to win," he said.

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 's picture

"Gorilla's" incoherent comment

Incoherently switching the discussion from the principle of rights of the individual to various versions of the "left" and "right" does not address the original comment. In addition, "left" means collectivism and statism; there are not "a lot" of leftists seeking to limit the power of the state. They are today predominantly progressives, along with assorted communists, fascists, eco-socialists and other advocates of explicit statism. Those who consider themselves on the "right" while advocating theocracy are no supporters of the rights of the individual. To say that "plenty of people on the right" oppose government power being hijacked for the benefit of religious impositions and other interests does not refute the original call for reports on "substantive positions and principles in the current cultural battle between open-ended statism versus rights of the individual under limited government powers" instead of conspiracy theories in political hit pieces. On the contrary, it illustrates the need for more serious discussion of principles of political philosophy in today's cultural battle over government policy.

 's picture

Stay on the subject

Once again the libs have used an already over used lefty tactic and tried changing the subject and making it about what ever straw man they can come up with. Poodle boy thinks it matters who served (apparently he did, i don't know if you knew that), but only if they are on the right. I have no idea what that has to do with the fact that the SJ has decided to attack a right wing organization and pretend that MoveOn does not exist. Stop reacting to the idiotic statements of Poodle boy, and you can blow off as not even worth reading the verbal antics of Lil and the under educated xyz. What should be asked in this post is if the SJ is prepared to be "Fair and Balanced" and give us the same scathing review of groups like MoveOn and Acorn?

RONALD RIML's picture

Gil writes: " I have no idea"

For once you're right - Gil....

As far as MoveOn.Org goes - they actually have several different organizations (which Rob didn't catch) - thinking it was all a 501(c)3. Their civic action group is actually a 501(c)4.

In your infinite wisdom and knowledge you can go figure that crap out with your compatriot Rob, seeing how you're as smart as a Basset Hound and I'm as bright as a Poodle. Fetch, Boy, Fetch.....

RONALD RIML's picture

The Bangor Daily News differs with you........

But what would they know that Gilliam Z. Basset doesn't???

Steve Bowen of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative lobbying group that drafted the spending cap initiative, said the latest Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal is about building prosperity in Maine.

 's picture

Let's examine Paris Patriot's Post Above...

1. At any one time, 1 million men and women are wearing the uniform while over 300 million Americans are not. Wearing the uniform is special, but using it to criticize others who have not is a very lame exercise. Bill Clinton was drafted and never dodged the draft. He simply failed to report of duty.

2. No, everyone at Fox News are draft dodgers. Off the top of my head, I can think of Oliver North and Greg Kelly for starters. So, you statement is a non-starter.

3. Who are the Tea Party leaders? I think the Tea Partiers themselves would like to know.

4. How do you know these mystery leaders "love war?" Anyone who knows war will probably tell you that it is disgusting experience for anyone connected with it.

5. The workers of this country pay taxes, generally. 58% of Americans work these days. 55% of Americans pay Federal income tax. We are about to get "screwed hard" by Obama and the Democrats when the repeal the Bush Tax Cuts this January 1st. That will be a real screwing to every taxpayer, from the richest to the not so rich.

RONALD RIML's picture

Obama to repeal the Bush tax cuts? Why lie, Bob Stone??

They automatically expire at the end of this year according to the law that George Bush signed. It has nothing to do with Obama taking any action. -

And Oliver North at Fox? The convicted felon?? - He lucked out when the ACLU helped him get his conviction reversed on a technicality. Now there's a shining example you present.

 's picture

It's not surprising

the Country Club Party here in Maine is alive and well and spreading their lies to propagandize the uneducated and politically lazy tea partiers.

 's picture

Comments on your : It's Not Surprising Post

1. Have a feeling that the average income for Maine Democrats exceeds the average income of Maine Republicans. I am not including out of state Democrat college voters in this mix. There are many very well-heeled Democrats in Maine. So, I am not sure the "Country Club" label fits any longer.

2. Name one lie that the Maine GOP has spread.

3. How do you know the few Tea Party participants in Maine are uneducated? How many do you know?

4. How many Tea Party participants are lazy? How many do you know?

I await your answers.

RONALD RIML's picture

I just caught you in a lie several posts down.

The Bush tax cuts expire on there own according to the legislation that Bush signed into Law.

Obama does not have the power to 'repeal' them.

RONALD RIML's picture

You're Wrongo - Robo

Read the fine print..... Civic Action is a 501(c)(4)

RONALD RIML's picture

And you know the difference between...

A 501(c)3 and a 501(c)4 like the difference between your anal orifice and a hole in the ground - right, Gilliam???

And how many other 501 classifications are there???

Dazzle us with the fact you discovered one piece of lingo - but knew not a damn thing about it....

Way to go, Basset Brain!!!

 's picture

Civil rights?

When did marriage become a civil right? And I like the "I could list more, but I'm not gonna" ploy. If you could, you would.

RONALD RIML's picture

Supreme Court recognized Marriage as a Civil Right

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

If you didn't know that, Gil - you shouldn't be playing with the big kids......

RONALD RIML's picture

You obviously didn't read the decision - did you.

Then this "Poodle's" been kicking your dumb Basset Hound azz all over the Forum, Gil.

Loving Vs. Virgina affirmed marriage was a civil right - exactly what I wrote....and by doing so outlawed racial restrictions to marriage. Quite different than 'recognizing interracial marriage.'

"Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888). To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

Interesting you referred to me as a 'Poodle' - which is the smartest of dogs second only to the Border Collie. And yes, your Basset Ass IS dumbest.

RONALD RIML's picture

Maine's Heritage is....What???

I looked up the bios of the six staff at the 'Maine Heritage Policy Center' on their website.

I always thought the people of Maine had a long heritage of military service to our country. Evidently these people forgot to include theirs' in the biographies.

Or else not a single one of them thought it worthwhile to serve. Does this tell us anything???

RONALD RIML's picture

Smart people go in the Navy....

And you stayed at home, Robo-Lad.

RONALD RIML's picture

Never claimed to be a War Hero - just that I've been to War

Unlike you and the rest of the Chickenhawks........

But just for giggles and grins - why don't you dig up any posts where I claimed to be what you allege. - You're full of crap as a Christmas Goose, Robo-Lad.

(Unless merely 'going' confers hero status in your uneventful life, Rob)

RONALD RIML's picture

How about The Daily Kos???

Founded by Markos Moulitsas -

RONALD RIML's picture

There you go - pretending to think, again.

You completely ignored the rationale that was presented - and - as usual, made up your own Gil-ian Bull-shidt.

But, Hey, if it works for you.......

RONALD RIML's picture

Clinton didn't start a War on False Pretenses like Bush

Then borrow money from China to pay for it as he thought it more important to cut taxes.

Those are the 'Conservative Values' you've been backing in fact there, Robo-Lad. How do you think that's been working out for us???

RONALD RIML's picture

Sorry - none of those folks you quoted were responsible

For the fabrications that Bush made and passed down to them.

There was only one President at the time - though he didn't act very presidential.

RONALD RIML's picture

So now all of a sudden you're a military expert???

Tell us what you know about our NATO involvement with Serbia.

If you have an allegation - cite it to a URL.

RONALD RIML's picture

If you want to dispute my four deployments...

Bring $1,000 to back up your curiosity - as I'll bring the same to back up my claim - with the applicable documentation. Vet Center should do it.

OK there, Motor Mouth???

Or is it Chicken Boy......

RONALD RIML's picture

Just what I thought....

Won't put your money where your mouth is.

 's picture

Yes, it does...

All hat, no cattle.

 's picture

Sounds like the Maine Policy

Sounds like the Maine Policy Heritage Center will be turning into at right leaning MoveOn.Org. Any one who follows will understand why conservatives or realists welcome a organization to counter MoveOn's "version" of the "truth."

 's picture

Duke that was a wonderful

Duke that was a wonderful and gentle breakdown of the language. Mr Mistler substitutes expletives and "inference" for substantive examples, they trash only one think tank. I hope the SJ will talk about the MTA and the State Employees Union, whom we pay, and take their union dues to support political candidates that will ultimately vote to increase union salaries. So, they confiscate my money, to support organizations whose goal is to take more of my money. Yikes
And of course, they trot out St. John and a Bowdoin Assoc. Professor for credibility. St John is on the opposite side of the political blanket, and College professors are the last bastion of perpetual adolescence.
Most of us want and need State and Federal Govt. We need good energetic teachers and Local and State Govt employees. We really want to care for and contribute to people who can't work or those who are diabled etc. We want our roads paved, (so our cars are not destroyed on our way to work) Clean Water and clean air. We now are seeing that a plethora of State emplotees in second tier management are making very large salaries, when most of us are working around the clock to support it. And the sentiment is.....we can't afford it. And....there is no more money. I think it was Sen Diamond right on TV, that said, "it's obvious accounting tricks aren't going to work any more." It isn't a lefty or a righty issue, there just isn't anymore money.
Sorry I digressed, we have a political class, who are all promoting their "careers" and they have divided us into lefty's and righty's and while their hand maiden the media fans the flames. Now we have a second tier of activists like the MHPC who are gleaning even more money to promote thier lefty or righty points of view. Common sense in both camps gets thrown out the window. But, Duke, that was a wonderfull breakdown thank you Bob Stone , yet another very good post

RONALD RIML's picture

Sons of of the Founder of the John Birch Society??

Now there's a pair to draw to!!!

The John Birch Society
(Michael Brown)

Oh we're meeting at the courthouse at eight o'clock tonight
You just come in the door and take the first turn to the right
Be careful when you get there, we'd hate to be bereft
But we're taking down the names of everybody turning left

'Cause we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save this country from a communistic plot
We're the John Birch Society, help us swell the ranks
To get this movement started, we need lots of tools and cranks

Now there's no one that's certain that the Kremlin doesn't touch
We think that Westbrook Pegler doth protest a bit too much
We only hail the hero from whom we got our name
We're not sure what he did, but he's our hero all the same

Join the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Socialism is the ism dismalist of all
Join the John Birch Society, there's so much to do
Have you heard they're serving vodka at the W.C.T.U.

Well you've heard about the agents that we've already named
Well M.C.A. has agents that are flatly unashamed
We're after Rosie Clooney, we've gotten Pinky Lee
And the day we get Red Skelton won't that be a victory

For we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Norman Vincent Peale may think he's kidding us along
But the John Birch Society knows he spilled the beans
He keeps on preaching brotherhood, but we know what he means

We'll teach you how to spot 'em in the city or the sticks
'Cause even Jasper Junction is just full of Bolsheviks
The CIA's subversive and so's the FCC
There's no one left but thee and we, and we're not sure of thee

Oh we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a Communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society, holding off the Reds
We'll use our hands and hearts, and if we must, we'll use our heads

BRIDGE: (O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain)

spoken: Friends, do you want Justice Warren to be your Commissar?

Do you want Mrs. Khrushchev in there with the DAR?

You cannot trust your neighbors, or even next-of-kin

If mommy is a Commie then you gotta turn her in

To the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Fighting for the right to fight the right fight for the right
Join the John Birch Society, as we're marching on
We'll all be glad to see you when we're meeting in the John
In the John, In the John Birch Society

The songbook states that some Bircher's used the song themselves, and saw it
in a positive light. And don't forget the organization dedicated to the
preservation of wooden toilet seats - The Jack Ash Society.

- Copyright: 1961, Sunbeam Music Corp, New York
- Source: The Mitchell Trio Songbook, Quadrangle Book (1964)
- Chad Mitchell Trio, At The Bitter End, Kapp: KL-1281, KS-3281, PKS-6002
- Chad Mitchell Trio: The Best Of, Kapp: KL-1334, KS-3334

 's picture

Preview of coming attractions?

THere's been no official announcement that I'm aware of, but I'm guessing Mr. Mistler is the Sun Journal's new statehouse reporter.

 's picture

rights of the individual

It's just that simple: "open-ended statism" versus "rights of the individual under limited government powers?"
No it's not.
There are plenty of people on the left who would like to keep government out of their bedrooms, out of their religious beliefs, out of their back yards. There are plenty of people on the left who wish they could find a way to limit what big government can do. There are plenty people on the right who worry seriously about government being very strongly influenced by religious groups, corporations, and extremely wealthy individuals.
Please stop over-simplifying.

 's picture

Hooray for the MHPC! They

Hooray for the MHPC! They must be doing something right when the rats begin to squeal. I am so tired of being a wagon puller while so many wagon riders are loafing.

 's picture

Liberal Media?

This article is a perfect example of why many people deride the media, especially the Maine media, including the Sun Journal, as left-leaning propagandists.

In the third paragraph - right around where we usually find the "nut graph," i.e. the reason the article is being written - John Piotti gets to say the MHPC is "often misrepresenting the truth." It is not until the 17th graph that Tarren Bragdon gets a chance to say he's "confident" in the work done by his group. Now, when I was working as a reporter, I would often get dressed down for writing an article that long, in total. Apparently, not having confidence in the reader's they serve, the conventional wisdom of newspaper editors is that "nobody will read that far."

And yet, we get 15 graphs of words maligning the integrity of the MHPC, such as "misrepresenting the truth," "attempts to spread its ideology," "cause for concern," "cloaked," "extreme right," and "pushes, if not violates, political lobbying limits."

We also get a donor, albeit several steps removed from the MHPC, cast as a moustache-twirling "oil baron." The tenuous connection seems to be that an AFP group funded by this donor, launched in Maine several years after the founding of the MHPC, happens to be run by a Bragdon brother. That siblings might have similar values, and so might pursue similar careers is not explored. Instead, we are led to believe there must be some nefarious connection. After all, while Sun Journal reporter Steve Mistler appears to do no original research, he's happy to paraphrase the New Yorker, which, we're told, can assure us AFP works are merely "billed as education positions," while they "ultimately benefit the organization's anonymous [though named as Koch Industries] corporate donors." No such charge is leveled at the MHPC directly, just guilt by association.

Meanwhile, Mistler takes a jab at Maine voters, who have a "suspicion," that government is wasteful. To back this seeming conspiracy theory, Mistler tells us the MHPC "recently" posted salaries of all state employees. Given that this happened more than three years ago, Mr. Mistler must have in his AP Stylebook a different definition for "recent" than was printed in mine. Still, the allegation does serve to advance the allegedly insidious nature of the MHPC.

Finally, only after all of this -- deep enough down that most editors will tell you the reader has moved on to the next article -- do we get a tepid defense from Bragdon, who tells us, simply, that he is "confident," in his group's work. Let 'em attack us if they want, he's quoted as saying. Hardly a direct rebuttal.

Of course, by describing libertarians as "anarchists," it would seem Mr. Bragdon betrays his own limited understanding of the accusations hurled at him.

Now, I do not claim Mr. Mistler, or the Sun Journal’s editors, of purposefully trying to pound a nail in the conservative coffin. Heaven's no. What interest would there be in discounting in September a think tank which conservative candidates are sure to lean on as we approach the general election in November?

Rather, I think this story, like last Sunday's Lisbon Street rah-rah, is a perfect example of a newspaper being lazy, and merely finding the story it goes looking for.

All reporters have their biases, of course. The best learn to mitigate those biases. Although such bias is certain to drive what questions a reporter asks, the good reporter tries to ask questions from all points of view and keeps a mind open enough to let the story lead him where it wants to go, not where he or she expects it to end up. A good news story must be not only accurate, and this one seems to be, in a general sense, as far as the facts go, but it must also be fair.

Instead, we have the MHPC pounded on for 15 paragraphs -- including mention of its failed TABOR drives but no reference to Mr. Piotti's failed tax overhaul, which may well give him a mad-on for conservative think tanks of all stripes. Meanwhile, any defense of the MHPC is buried about as far as it can be. At the very least, although it would not have cured all the ills of this article, Mr. Bragdon should have been allowed to express his confidence in the graph immediately following Mr. Piotti's strong accusation.

Until the Sun Journal can do a better job at balancing its coverage, it will continue to be discounted as just another bastion of the "liberal media," and that's too bad, because I know from personal experience that the paper has many outstanding, fair-minded staffers devoted to truth, in all its forms, regardless of the source.


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Please help me out,

I guess am not bright enough to understand, ojhuig. "TL;DR" ?? Care to help me out?

RONALD RIML's picture

"Too long, Didn't read"

That's what google is for.

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Funny thing . . .

Funny thing Old Bill, while I'm aware of who Glenn Beck is, mainly from seeing clips of him spoofed on the Daily Show, I've never actually seen an episode of his show. I also haven't heard Rush's show in more than 15 years. Also, I think I'd rather have bamboo shoots driven under my fingernails than listen to a Sarah Palin speech. But ojie's right, I must be a conservative. LOL

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Hardly worth my time

Well, now, ojhuig, here's what I expect: I expect you to communicate clearly and effectively, so I don't have to waste my time on research to understand what the heck you're talking about. You've yet to so dazzle me with brilliance that I'd consider it time well spent. I also expect you to go easy on the pejoratives until you know who you're talking to. If you'd seen some of the knock- down, drag- outs I've had with neo-cons, you'd hardly hurl an invective like "conservative" at me. The real world is no more liberal-or-conservative than it is black-or-white. I ain't your boogeyman.

RONALD RIML's picture

'Truth and Openness' have always been Liberal' concepts...

Ergo - the real, probing media is liberal in nature.

RONALD RIML's picture

Hawaii gave you a birth certificate and the newspapers printed

birth announcements at the time. And you still need to be spoon-fed what??

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

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The extreme Far-Lefties are running scared

and this so-called news story is a great example of this fact. 'We the People' are in the process of taking back our USA. Remember in November!

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If you're sick & tired of the ongoing damage caused by the Left,

there are three (3) upcoming solutions called
"Building Your Activist Toolkit" (FREE Seminars):

1) Thursday, September 16, 2010 from 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM (ET) @ PORTLAND, ME – Italian Heritage Center

2) Monday, September 27, 2010 from 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM (ET) @ ELLSWORTH, ME | Ellsworth City Hall

3) Tuesday, September 28, 2010 from 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM (ET) @ GARDINER, ME | Gardiner Area High School

For More Information, visit
and become part of the solution. Remember in November!

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Maine Heritage Policy Center is political poison

Every Republican candidate who has associated themselves with the Maine Heritage Policy Center has been unelectable, so I’m not sure the Democrats' concerns are justified. Perhaps in some far upstate districts you can be associated with their policies and win, but not a state election. Paul LePage has the ability to be elected Governor but with his association with the Center, I would look for either Libby Mitchell or Eliot Cutler to start to surge politically. As for Marco Rubio, the national media was reporting around that time he spoke at a Center event that he was personally broke. Therefore it's possible that he was signed on with a so-called speaker's bureau and that's how he ended up coming to our state. Some political candidates do earn income from writing and speaking, although on topics other than politics.

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It is about time Maine has a free market advocacy group

The MHPC must be doing some damage to the "Professional Left" who now dominate Maine. The Professional Left has commissioned its major water carrier, the Lewiston Sun-Journal, to write a hit piece on the MHPC.

The reporter describes Kit St. John's group as "left leaning." This is the most misleading statement of the year in Maine politics. Anyone who knows Kit and the MCEP will snort at that statement. I suppose if you are way out there on the left, socialist cabals might appear to be only "left leaning."

And Piotti's statement, unchallenged by the cub reporter, that the MHPC "misrepresents the truth" is an example of water carrying in the extreme. How about some examples of these "misrepresentations?" Is printing a list of all state salaries "misrepresentation?" Is printing a list of all payments made to vendors to state government "misrepresentation?"

I hope that the Sun-Journal will do story about Chellie Pingree's association with J. Donald Sussman. Let's hear about J. Donald's "left leaning" activism and financial support history. It will never happen, of course. Or, how about Mike Michaud's lock step voting record with San Fran Nan Pelosi. Michaud's as "Blue Dog" as I will be likely to be invited to Kit St. John's summer place overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Tarren Bragdon is as classy and intelligent as they get. Piotti and St. John are no match for him. Expect more trashing by the Professional Left.

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Let Tron have his fun on his personal playground

We went over my relationship with the "LePage Campaign" yesterday and Tron is having a problem understanding 6th grade English.

Yes. I support Paul LePage. Yes. I have and will raise money for Paul's run. Yes, I am pleased that he is not using the taxpayer's money to fund his run for the Blaine House. Yes, Libby Mitchell is using the taxpayer's money to run. Yes, Paul LePage will be out spent by millions as the Professional Left uses millions in union money to try to beat him. Yes, Libby would be a disaster as Governor and yes, Tron might see his air hose stepped on.

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to XYZ

So, am I misinterpreting you if I say that, in order to be honest and truthful I need to have served in Nam. John Kerry served in Nam for 4 months and tried to make himself out to be a hero, but still won't sign off on his 180's. Why is that? Most hero's that I know that came home after four months in theater, came home with missing limbs, crippled or in a coffin. Mr. Kerry and your crowed forced GB to sign his 180's why won't Kerry sign his? Maybe he's hiding something he doesn't want us to know.

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The shrapnel came from a

The shrapnel came from a grenade he threw Wile E. Coyote style into a boat they came alongside. He tossed it into sacks of rice and took most of the damage in his bum. Lucky the fool bastard didn't get his crew killed. Tell me why it was that none of his commanders would sign for his Purple Hearts?

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A "news" report on "tentacles"?

Instead of "reporting" on conspiracy theories about "tentacles" it would be far more useful to your readers to report on substantive positions and principles in the current cultural battle between open-ended statism versus rights of the individual under limited government powers.


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