A new conservative campaign committee led by Gov. Paul LePage and his former staffers rented out the Blaine House, where the governor resides, for $115 on July 25, according to financial reports filed last week. The group, which calls itself the “ICE PAC,” is run by former LePage policy advisor Holly Lusk and Michael Hersey, LePage’s former Director of Business Development and Innovation. Hersey was also LePage’s campaign finance director and served on his 2010 transition team. Lusk is currently a lobbyist with the firm Preti-Flaherty, where she serves clients ranging from casinos and Anheuser-Busch to the health insurance corporation Aetna and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PHRMA). In an amended version of the PAC’s financial reports posted on Wednesday, LePage is listed as a fundraiser on the committee. Neither Lusk nor Hersey responded to phone messages and emails seeking comment.
The PAC states that it “supports candidates who are pro-economic growth, and who strive to lower the tax burden on Maine citizens.” The PAC’s donors who have collectively contributed $130,000 to the PAC, are a who’s who of big Republican donors, including LL Bean heiress Linda Bean and her sister Diana Bean, Paul Fortin of Fortin & Sons Timber in Madison, Jim Varney of the Bangor-based Varney Agency and former New Hampshire Motor Speedway owners Bob and Gary Bahre, who also built the Oxford Casino.
Blaine House spokeswoman Barbara Claudel said that while the Blaine House is not available to private citizens, various community organizations and government agencies often book the governor’s residence for meetings and recognition ceremonies. She said campaign events are also acceptable.
“Usually we’ll run that through our legal department to make sure we’re doing everything appropriately,” said Claudel. “I’m fairly new here so I haven’t seen a lot of them, but I know we can.”
In an email, former Gov. John Baldacci’s deputy chief of staff David Farmer wrote that while he’s not a lawyer, he questions the legality of holding such meetings.
“To my knowledge, we never rented it out for a political event,” wrote Farmer. “While it’s the governor’s residence, it’s also a state building and an historical building. I don’t know if it is even legal to rent it out for a political event. Seems like you’d have to make it available generally and equally. If that’s the case, maybe I’ll rent it!”
Whether the legal department would grant permission for a Speaker Mark Eves for Governor fundraiser or perhaps the Revolutionary Marxists of Maine’s Annual “Gender Bender Soiree” is an open question. The fee for renting a meeting room at the Blaine House is $5 per person, which includes beverages and light snacks. Slots available are typically 9:30 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 3:30 p.m., but times can vary, said Claudel. For more information, call 624-7500.