Jacob Posik

Mainers believe that government should be open and transparent, but in many ways, that has not been the case during the administration of Gov. Janet Mills.

On numerous occasions, Maine Policy Institute has waited a year or more for Mills’ executive branch departments to respond to our Freedom of Access Act requests for public communications. We never waited this long under the administrations of Govs. John Baldacci or Paul LePage. 

People should always be aware of what their government is doing, and government should be prompt in turning over the information when requested. This is how people in a democratic society hold their government and elected officials accountable for their actions. 

Last week, Maine Policy Institute learned that on Oct. 13, 2021, Gov. Mills’ administration sent a letter to the Maine Press Association asking the group to establish a novel system for credentialing news media in an effort to keep select journalists at The Maine Wire and Beacon from participating in state-held briefings.

What makes this communication so noteworthy is that one week prior, on Oct. 6, 2021, the administration was caught trying to kick these same journalists out of weekly briefings held by the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

At the time, Maine CDC Communications Director Robert Long told Maine Policy, which operates TheMaineWire.com, that its journalists would no longer be allowed to participate in the briefings due to a new “advocacy journalist” policy.


The rationale for the policy was that the owners of The Maine Wire and Maine Beacon — Maine Policy Institute and Maine People’s Alliance — are nonprofit organizations that solicit donations for their reporting and have a point of view. Their journalists, therefore, were not “credentialed journalists.”

The agency’s explanation held no water, considering numerous nonprofits — like the Maine Monitor and Maine Public — also solicit donations for their reporting, and several for-profit publications regularly solicit donations for their reporting (the Bangor Daily News just did so on Giving Tuesday, for example).

In addition, there are newspapers in Maine that have editorial boards which express points of view. In fact, since these entities are not constrained by nonprofit rules, they are allowed to endorse candidates and ballot questions, something The Maine Wire can’t do as a property of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Even the Maine People’s Alliance’s Maine Beacon publication, a 501(c)(4), is allowed to engage in political activity from which Maine Policy Institute is prohibited.

The more likely rationale for booting these publications is that both represented the ideological left and right flanks of the Mills administration, and they didn’t want us asking uncomfortable questions anymore at their briefings. Or, perhaps, they really just wanted to get rid of The Maine Wire but knew they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without removing Beacon reporters as well.

After learning about the policy last year, Maine Policy immediately sounded the alarm on social media that the agency had unceremoniously (and likely illegally) removed us from the briefings. We also contacted the New England First Amendment Coalition. 

Some members of the press, including editors at this paper, reached out to Long and other officials in the Mills administration to convey displeasure with their attack on the free press. Few publications chose to write about the ordeal in news or editorial coverage, however.


I’m grateful for those who came to our defense, understanding that allowing the Mills administration’s actions to go unchallenged would set an alarming new precedent.

Though, while virtually every newspaper in Maine is a member of the press association, none of them found it newsworthy that the Mills administration asked for this new credentialing system one week after getting caught trying to ban select journalists from its briefings. They all left this story alone. 

Fortunately, the press association declined the Mills administration’s request and no such credentialing system was created, despite the governor’s best efforts. But let’s be clear about what this episode represents: an unprecedented attack on press freedom by a sitting governor — an authoritarian move to squash criticism and dissent.

Maine Policy Institute submitted a FOAA request last October for documents and communications related to the creation of the Maine CDC’s “advocacy journalist” policy. Nearly 14 months later, that request remains unfulfilled from the governor’s office and Maine CDC.

Who knows if we’ll ever get to the bottom of this whole charade. Maine’s FOAA law has no teeth, so the governor could sit on these clandestine communications until her term expires.

But the people of Maine deserve to know what she tried to do to select members of the press, and how willing established outlets were to give this whole story a good leaving alone.

Jacob Posik of Turner is the director of communications of Maine Policy Institute, a free-market think tank headquartered in Portland. 

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