Max Linn aides call for state fraud probe of campaign’s election paperwork

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Two men at the heart of the scandal that caused Republican U.S. Senate candidate Max Linn’s campaign to self-destruct said Wednesday that Attorney General Janet Mills ought to find out who committed fraud in Linn’s signature-gathering process.

“I will go talk to the attorney general myself. I hope there’s justice here,” Matt McDonald, a strategist for Linn who runs his social media accounts, said.

Former Lewiston lawmaker Stavros Mendros, also a former Androscoggin County Republican Party leader, said he plans to talk with the Attorney General’s Office soon.

“I know they’re investigating it. They have to be,” Mendros said.

The Attorney’s General Office declined to comment on whether it is looking into how the signatures of dead people wound up on the petitions submitted by Linn in his effort to claim a spot on the June 12 GOP primary ballot against state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn.

Mendros and McDonald gathered signatures for Linn. Each said he felt dismay that Linn, who campaigned on a platform of all-out support for President Donald Trump, has been done in by fraud.

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Mendros blamed McDonald for the problems. McDonald denied any wrongdoing. He said he feels sorry for Mendros and isn’t even sure that anybody acted maliciously in the botched petition process.

“Clearly, something happened and personally I want to see who did it,” McDonald said.

He said the Democrats and U.S. Sen. Angus King, a first-term independent, must be “laughing their ass off” at the way the GOP is self-destructing on the campaign trail.

Given the mess they’ve made of the race, McDonald said, the Republicans have made defeating King unlikely.

“We’re chopping down Mount Katahdin with an ax,” McDonald said.

Linn, who has a last-ditch appeal pending before the state Supreme Court next week, faces long odds no matter what the judges decide.

After hearings before the Maine secretary of state and in court during the past six weeks, officials threw out enough of Linn’s signatures for fraud that he failed to qualify for the ballot.

Attorneys for Linn and Brakey agree that fraud occurred in the petition process, which included the names of people who are dead, but disagreed about how many signatures ought to be tossed.

In the end, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap rejected enough of them to disqualify Linn from the ballot. Unless a court overturns his ruling, which few expect, signs will appear at polling places across Maine informing the electorate that despite Linn’s presence on already printed ballots, any votes for him won’t be counted.

By any standard, such fraud is a political fiasco, possibly even criminal.

On Twitter this week, Linn pinned at least some on Stavros: “Stavros Mendros was highly recommended by a major player in the @mainegop and in hindsight I realize this recommendation was given in bad faith. I‘m a political outsider and this person knew it.”

McDonald said that recommendation came from Jim McCarthy of Lyman, who served as Linn’s campaign manager for a time. He is active in GOP politics in York County.

McCarthy, who could not be reached Wednesday, “is a nice guy but he made poor choices” in his role running the campaign, McDonald said, especially the choice of Mendros to help gather signatures.

Mendros said, though, that Linn doesn’t have anything to do with his own Twitter account.

“He’s a Luddite,” Mendros said, insisting that McDonald writes whatever he wants under Linn’s name online.

McDonald said it’s true that Linn has almost no idea about Twitter or social media, generally.

“I’m not sure Max even knows how to get on Twitter,” McDonald said.

But, he said, everything that goes online in Linn’s name is vetted first by the candidate to ensure it’s in line with his thinking.

Whoever wrote it, Linn’s Twitter account said this week that he “didn’t do enough homework” and mistakenly put his trust in “a GOP political insider” who looked out for the interests of the Republican establishment.

“This whole Swamp system is set up to keep the political class and their parasites in, while making it almost impossible for regular and decent people to get involved,” Linn’s Twitter account said. “The American people deserve a better system than this. The Swamp has to be drained.”

It remains a mystery what happened to the petitions before they were submitted. They were generally circulated by Linn allies and paid circulators who came from out of state. Mendros said some of them had ties to pro-marijuana groups in other states.

He said he couldn’t figure out why they came to Maine in February to earn as little as $8 a signature when they could have gone to California and earned $31 per signature without having to worry about weather or the party affiliation of the person signing.

Whatever their motives, it isn’t clear that the gatherers botched the job. The fraud may have entered in after they finished their work.

Linn’s own lawyer said there was “hanky-panky” involved, with which both Mendros and McDonald agree.

A judge noted that Dunlap “endeavored to find out who retained custody of the candidate petition forms after they were turned in by circulators, but neither Mr. Linn nor campaign worker Matthew McDonald could provide any clarification as to what happened, other than to describe the process as ‘chaotic.’”

“It all links back to Matt,” Mendros said.

Mendros said he did nothing untoward, and that the signatures he gathered were fine. Doing anything else would be stupid, he said.

“A jump off a building would be a smarter move” than jeopardizing his signature-gathering business with any sort of fraud, said Mendros, who has a 2007 conviction for misuse of his notary commission and was fined in 1999 by the state ethics commission for filing paperwork late.

McDonald said the notion that he monkeyed with the forms in a back office is silly.

“We don’t even have an office,” he said. “We have a post office box in Ellsworth.”

scollins@sunjournal.com

Max Linn

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