Marblehead selectmen
Iron-fisted control over painting lacks spirit of ’76

For a prime example of what happens when local officials are given the opportunity to control what others publish, consider the town of Marblehead. Hanging in Abbot Hall is The Spirit of ’76, Archibald Willard’s well-known depiction of two drummers and a fife player on a Revolutionary War–era battlefield, which he painted for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. The copyright expired decades ago. Willard also painted several other versions.

But the Marblehead rendition is considered definitive, and the town selectmen have in their possession a high-quality slide. That slide is essential for anyone who wishes to republish the painting, since The Spirit of ’76 is shielded by a sheet of glass, and if you try to photograph it, the reflection will render it unusable.

You may not be surprised to learn that the selectmen are extraordinarily protective of the slide and, well, selective about whom they will allow to borrow it. If you’ve got a nonprofit use in mind, or if you’re a textbook publisher, the selectmen might take pity on you and let you use it — usually for a $100 fee. If not? Well, forget it.

The selectmen’s policy has led to some truly bizarre decisions. Several years ago, they allowed Bob Jones University to borrow the slide for a textbook despite the university’s history of racial discrimination and anti-Catholic bigotry. Not that they shouldn’t have. But this past spring the selectmen turned down local historian Pam Peterson because the booklet in which she wanted to include it, Marblehead Myths and Legends, might (gasp!) make a little money.

For the same reason, the selectmen in May rejected a request from American History magazine. Selectman William Woodfin, noting that the magazine sells for $4.95, darkly intoned, “Someone appears to be making a profit.” He added: “I don’t want teasers put over the front of Marblehead’s copy of The Spirit. . . like Cosmopolitan magazine.”

Both local papers have poked fun at the selectmen, with the Marblehead Reporter urging them to “get a life” and the Salem News editorializing that the selectmen must “enjoy the sight of an unenlightened few groveling before them.” No matter. The selectmen have the slide and, thus, the power that goes with it.

Maine election officials
Anti-free-speech ruling croaks legislative candidate
It’s bad enough that well-meaning reformers have succeeded in regulating political speech through so-called campaign-finance-reform measures that restrict how candidates, political parties, and outside organizations raise and spend money.

But consider the plight of Cape Elizabeth resident Michael Mowles, a Republican candidate for the state legislature in 2004 and again in 2006. During the primary campaign in 2006, he distributed a flier that recycled endorsements he had received from the state’s Republican US senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, two years earlier in the general election. Not wanting to mislead anyone, he stuck an “October 2004” attribution next to each of those endorsements.

That wasn’t good enough for Mowles’s primary opponent (and former aide), Jennifer Duddy. Believing that prospective voters might think Snowe and Collins had endorsed one Republican over another, Duddy filed a complaint with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. And the commission, after examining Mowles’s entirely accurate campaign literature, ruled against him, fining him a token $1 and publicizing its findings just before the primary election. Duddy won. Mowles lost.

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