LePage's secret puppeteers

By COLIN WOODARD  |  February 10, 2011

Instead of developing a blueprint for rethinking rules and procedures that might hinder job growth, LePage appears to have outsourced the task to corporate lobbyists, resulting in a package geared to destroying Maine's regulatory precedents lest they spread to other parts of the country. "Stopping precedents is an important factor, and many of these businesses and industry associations play on a national level," says Ron Schmidt, chair of the University of Southern Maine's political science department. "They're not picking and choosing to intervene in states because they want to invest in them, but because they think they have an opportunity to assist clients. And LePage is an opportunity."

And it's not just Preti that's had the governor's ear. LePage named PIERCE ATWOOD managing partner Gloria Pinza to his transition team, which, as the lobbying firm's website points out, was "providing input into policy proposals and identifying skills needed to fill key positions" in the new administration. It may not be a coincidence that the governor wishes to nominate Pierce Atwood lobbyist Patricia Aho as deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

"I think you can safely say that there is unprecedented access for big out-of-state companies to influence legislative proposals in the state of Maine," says Matt Prindiville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who lobbied on behalf of some of the laws and regulations the governor has targeted. "These companies that lost in the legislature are looking to sneak these proposals through the back door under the guise of regulatory reform."

"Repealing these laws will not create a single job in Maine," Prindiville says. "There isn't a single Maine businessperson who says, 'you know, the reason I can't grow my business is that law that gets brominated fire retardants out of mattresses or BPA out of babies' bottles.' It's ludicrous."

By contrast, the motivations of Preti Flaherty and Pierce Atwood's clients are easily documented. Lobbying disclosures on file with the state Ethics Commission show both PhRMA and Merck paid Robinson to defeat the KID-SAFE PRODUCTS ACT, a 2008 law that phased out toxic chemicals in toys, car seats, baby clothes, and other children's products. The AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE and drug maker ASTRAZENECA paid Aho to do the same. The governor's wish list calls for "revisions to prohibitions of chemicals and materials in products" saying that "if the state is going to regulate consumer products at all, it should only do so when clearly justified on risk-benefit or cost benefit basis."

(We asked Demeritt, LePage's spokesman, who requested this language be included. "That came out of our reform subcommittee group during the transition," he said, but when we asked who was in that group, Demeritt abruptly cut off the interview, saying he had "some things to do.")

Another of Robinson's clients, the Toy Industry Association of America, was among the out-of-state interests that tried to stop the Bureau of Environmental Protection from banning the use of BISPHENOL-A in baby bottles, sippy cups, and other food containers last year. BPA has also been banned in the European Union, Canada, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Chicago; Wal-Mart and other major retailers have stopped selling baby products containing the substance. LePage's wish list seeks to "Repeal BPA rule and rely on federal EPA and FDA standards," which permit the substance. (Other interests fighting the ban include the AMERICAN CHEMISTRY COUNCIL and the infant-formula divisions of PFIZER and NESTLE.)

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