Maine Nonprofit Gets Caught in the Crossfire of Rough Political Hardball

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June 25, 2015; New York Times

The New York Times and the Associated Press report on some political hardball in Maine that reminds us how easy it is for nonprofits to get caught in the crossfire, and become collateral damage, to boot.

“Even Maine lawmakers accustomed to Gov. Paul LePage’s aggressive style of politics said Thursday they were troubled by accusations that the Republican had the top Democrat in the House of Representatives removed from his new job at a school for at-risk youth by threatening to cut off funds to the institution,” the article reported.

According to the Times, Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves said that LePage told the school that he would withhold more than $500,000 a year from the nonprofit’s charter school unless it fired Eves as president, which could have cost the charter an additional $2 million in private donations.

The governor said that he stands by his opposition to Eves getting the job because the speaker often opposed charter schools in the legislature:

“To provide half-a-million dollars in taxpayer funding to a charter school that would be headed by Maine’s most vehement anti-charter-school politician is not only the height of hypocrisy, it is absolutely unacceptable.”

But even some of his Republican allies consider this latest move “taking partisan politics to a new, dark level.” The school, Good Will-Hinckley, has not said why Eves will not become its next top executive, but it is seeking a new president because it says it wants to avoid getting involved in a “political controversy.”

The speaker told the AP that he believes the governor’s actions will have greater implications than the loss of a job because “it could have a chilling effect on lawmakers who may worry their livelihoods could be at risk because of the way they vote.” Maine has a part-time legislature, whose members typically work at other jobs.

LePage is known for his hardball politics, and Democrats are fighting back, looking into a lawsuit and even impeachment. One legal scholar said that LePage’s action could be construed as retaliation against the speaker’s exercising his constitutionally protected right to free speech. Meanwhile, the school, instead of installing a new president on July 1st, will be reopening its search for a new headmaster.—Larry Kaplan