Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sean Faircloth has had it with fake news.
“We’ve got to protect our democracy” from the rising tide of anonymous online slurs and Russian meddling, the former state lawmaker and ex-mayor of Bangor said.
Faircloth, one of a dozen Democrats vying for his party’s backing in the June 12 primary, said government must do more “to find the perpetrators” with cyber investigators to see who is behind sites like the anonymous Maine Examiner and “call them to account.”
He said if there are not already laws against spreading false and misleading news anonymously to gain a political advantage, “I’m going to make sure they’re crimes.”
“If for example a political operative intentionally fails to disclose their authorship of a piece that should be subject to open disclosure as a campaign expenditure in order to conceal misleading or false statements then criminal penalties should be available.”
Faircloth, 57, said he is a firm believer in the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and a free press, but is convinced that for the process to be transparent, people need to know who is making online charges masquerading as news.
The fake news problem is just one of a number of issues that Faircloth touched on during a wide-ranging discussion of his positions during a recent campaign stop in Lewiston.
He said he wants:
• The minimum wage to reach $15 an hour by 2023.
• More bonding for infrastructure and broadband.
• Greater reliance on wind and solar energy.
• More effort to encourage immigrants to settle in Maine.
Faircloth, the executive director of Maine Mental Health Connections, a small, mental-health agency that also operates a soup kitchen and a food pantry, said he favors universal health care and more attention to substance abuse and mental health.
Calling himself a populist and a progressive, Faircloth said he is running as a Maine Clean Elections candidate because he has seen “increasing encroachment by special interests” in Maine’s political system that helps those with money influence policy and law in Augusta.
Faircloth said that encouraging innovation would help, too.
He said that by encouraging immigrants to replenish an aging workforce, Maine would also spur the growth of new enterprises since newcomers open businesses at a faster clip than natives.
“They bring a lot of skills and they bring a lot of innovation,” Faircloth said.
He said he would also like to offer 400 annual $5,000 scholarships to creative leaders among Maine’s college students who come up with ideas that would improve the state. If even 10 percent of them come to fruition, Faircloth said, it would serve as “a continuing well of innovation.”
To make Maine’s workplace fairer for all, he said he would press for a law that bars employers from asking about previous salary histories from applicants – something that has been shown to hurt women – and to require transparency of salaries within a business to help prevent gender bias in pay levels.
He would also require that every business offer a retirement program even if it does not offer any matching funds because research has proven such programs help employees save for the future.
Faircloth would also guarantee that every teacher in Maine earn at least $40,000 annually.
He said the problem of fake news is bigger than many realize.
Given that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using similar tactics to spread falsehoods online in other countries, Faircloth said, it is especially important that Mainers and other Americans take action to counter the spread of fake news.
Putin, he said, “is not kidding around” in his efforts “to control our government.”
“It’s important – and incumbent on us to protect our democracy,” Faircloth said.
Faircloth said there is no way “an operative for the Republican Party” ought to be able to “trash a a mayoral candidate” in Lewiston “without proper attribution” and get away with it.
Some Examiner stories relied on leaked campaign emails for stories that portrayed Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin badly in the days leading up to the Dec. 12 mayoral runoff. Chin, who had Democratic backing in the non-partisan race, lost to Shane Bouchard, a Republican. Faircloth said that Chin, who lost by 142 votes, “got ripped off by this internet attack.”
Maine Democrats have filed an ethics complaint alleging the executive director of the Maine GOP had hidden ties to the Examiner, a website operated without disclosing its owners or operators that publishes Maine news with a right-wing slant. Republicans deny wrongdoing.
Faircloth graduated from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and then earned a law degree at University of California — Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. He has worked as an assistant attorney general and as a private lawyer.
Faircloth has served five nonconsecutive terms in the Legislature, including a term as the House majority whip. He later served as Bangor’s mayor.
Among the other Democratic candidates for governor: Attorney General Janet Mills, former House Speaker Mark Eves and state Sen. Mark Dion. Republicans also have a slew of contenders in the June 6 gubernatorial primary.
The Democrats’ choice as their standard bearer in the race for governor in the primary will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot to succeed two-term Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who is not allowed to seek reelection.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sean Faircloth (Courtesy photo)