AUGUSTA — The Maine Republican Party’s executive director said Thursday that a Democratic ethics complaint against the GOP is “completely without merit.”

Denying any wrongdoing, Jason Savage said the Republicans “are extremely diligent about reporting all expenditures in a timely manner.”

Meanwhile, more evidence has emerged tying Savage to an anonymous website that spreads news with a rightwing spin, including error logs on the site that name him.

The new information sheds more light on the connection between Savage, who promised a more-detailed response soon, and the secretive Maine Examiner that has been lending a hand to the GOP since its inception in September.

The Sun Journal reported Wednesday that Savage’s name appears in the metadata of some of the photographs on the Examiner’s website, the first solid indication that Savage might have unexplained connections with the online publication.

The state Democratic Party of Maine has lodged an ethics complaint with the state alleging that the Republicans violated state ethics and campaign finance laws by working secretly with the Examiner to offer slanted posts without disclosing who was funding or operating the site.

Error logs for the Maine Examiner show its account is hosted under a user named “jasonsavage207,” a moniker that matches accounts used by Savage.

The Maine People’s Alliance’s Maine Beacon on Thursday reported the error logs that show Savage’s name.

In addition, the Beacon discovered “the design template for the website was downloaded from mythemeshop.com and installed on September 17,” the same date that someone with the username “jasonsavage207” last visited the site.

Together with the metadata from photographs on the Examiner’s site, the Beacon said the evidence “now seems overwhelming that the Maine Republican Party, and Savage specifically, is behind the website” that helped undermine Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin’s chances in a Dec. 12 runoff won by GOP favorite Shane Bouchard.

Phil Bartlett, the Maine Democratic Party chairman, said Wednesday the revelation about Savage’s photos illustrating Maine Examiner stories shows “the Maine GOP has stooped to a new low” and called for GOP leaders to “condemn this dishonest behavior and tell the people of Maine that their party should not be led by liars like Jason Savage.”

Though the Republicans have said almost nothing about the Maine Examiner since questions began swirling about it this month, the party’s communications director, Garrett Murch, did mention the publication in a Dec. 7 email and provided a link to one of its anonymously authored pieces.

Passing along a tip that the Examiner had a story about Chin’s unpaid parking tickets, Murch said GOP officials “haven’t confirmed this report, but you may want to, particularly given other things about Chin that have recently come to light questioning his respect for the city he wants to represent. This website’s stories on Chin’s emails have checked out thus far, after all.”

Murch added a comment that the Sun Journal could use if the parking tickets story checked out.

Maine Republicans are not denying a connection to the Maine Examiner. Instead, they’re defending the online paper’s reporting about Chin’s emails.

The GOP’s state party chair, Demi Kouzounas, said in a prepared statement Thursday that the Lewiston emails are not “false, distorted or fake,” a point that few have argued. Chin himself admitted they were real.

Kouzounas called the Democrats “desperate” and insisted they were “trying to get the Maine media to assist them” in calling the emails “fake news.”

The Boston Globe first noted the social media connections among Savage, the GOP and the Maine Examiner in a recent story.

Under the First Amendment, Americans are free to write and publish whatever they like — though they may be subject to libel laws after the fact — but campaign finance laws in Maine require that people who fund political campaigns disclose their contributions and spending.

The Democrats charge that Savage’s activity is an indication that the GOP failed to obey the relevant statutes.

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Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage delivers a “Fake News Alert” last year, discussing a story his party thought failed to meet the standards of good journalism. (From a Maine GOP video)


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