The Maine Attorney General’s Office has begun to conduct interviews in response to a formal complaint filed against Steve Robinson, a blogger for the The Maine Wire, for secretly recording a conference call among progressive groups. At the time, the groups were developing a strategy to counter an ad from the Republican Governors Association attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Representative, Mike Michaud.
Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance said that the AG’s office had spoken to invited participants in the conversation which took place on September 4 but did not offer the names of those contacted.
Robinson, who is a freelance columnist for The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram as well as blogging for The Maine Wire, the blog of the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC), secretly recorded the session and posted it online in a blog article. He also brought the recording to The Bangor Daily News claiming to have obtained it from a “source.”
After it became known that Robinson had recorded the conversation himself, MHPC defended the deception saying that he had been merely protecting his source — which was him.
Maine law says that:
“Interception of wire and oral communications is a “Class C” crime under the state criminal code, and an interceptor is someone other than the sender or receiver of a communication who is not in the range of “normal unaided hearing” and has not been given the authority to hear or record the communication by a sender or receiver.
Disclosure of the contents of intercepted communications, knowing the information was obtained by interception, is a violation of the criminal code as well.
Anyone whose communications have been intercepted can sue for civil damages and recover the greater of $100 a day for each day of violation or actual damages, and also attorney fees and litigation costs.”
MHPC has accused Maine People’s Alliance of illegally campaigning on Michaud’s behalf, asserting that as a non-profit they are not allowed to endorse candidates — seeming to contradict the claims by conservative organizations that they were illegally targeted by the IRS which prevented them from participating in the 2012 election by delaying approval of their tax-exempt status.
Other participants in the conference call, Maine Equal Justice Partners and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, have denied that the call involved any illegal activity and that the call was to discuss how best to give educational responses to the ads and make the public aware of the misleading claims being made.
Suzanne Lafreniere, Associate Public Policy Director for the diocese, said that she took part in the call only as an advocate for immigrants who the ads portray as criminals. She said that when she learned of Robinson’s recording she attempted to convince him not to make it public since that would serve only to further politicize the issue of immigration.
“If it was a purely political phone call there’s no way that I would have been on it,” she told an interviewer.