| Editor's Note:
This report, which has been on the web for more than a decade, is incomplete as
posted here. The full story, including sworn courtroom testimony by two
principal characters in this drama, is contained in the book:
"A Tale of Dirty Tricks So Bizarre: Susan Collins v. Public Record"
That book, also written by Jean Hay Bright, was first published in 2002. It was updated for a second printing in the fall of 2007 -- in time for Collins' third run for U.S. Senate.
For more information on that book, see BrightBerryPress.com or Amazon.com.
And don't miss The Story the Bangor Daily News Doesn't Want You to Read, the remarkable Op-Ed piece written by Robert Norris, that the BDN published as part of its court settlement. (Reprinted here with permission of the author)
It was less than a month until the November 5, 1996 election, and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Susan Collins of Bangor was beginning to slip in the polls. Collins, who had held an 8-point lead in August against her Democratic opponent, former governor and Congressman Joseph Brennan of Portland, was just 2 percentage points ahead in early October -- within the poll's margin of error. John Day, Washington political commentator for the Bangor Daily News, reported those figures, taken from two BDN-commissioned polls, in his Oct. 8 column.
Four days later, in the front page lead story in the weekend edition under the headline, Dems hired investigator to dig dirt on Collins, Day began what was labeled an analysis with these words:
``Republican Senate candidate Susan Collins is being shadowed by a dirt-for-hire consultant with a checkered past.''
Collins aide Bob Tyrer is quoted as saying: ``By hiring a private investigator to dig up dirt on Susan Collins, Joe Brennan has proved himself unworthy to serve in a Senate seat held by Margaret Chase Smith and Bill Cohen.''
That report kicked off a three-week brouhaha which was portrayed very differently by the state's four largest daily newspapers. The three papers south of Bangor debunked the story almost immediately. Several columnists and editorials in those three papers either came to Brennan's defense, chastised the Collins' campaign for its inappropriate and inflammatory rhetoric, or scolded the BDN for its unprofessionalism. One commentator called it ``jingoistic journalism.''
The BDN, however, doggedly promoted the story it had created, even interjecting the issue when it didnt come up on its own. The second paragraph of an Oct. 22 story by reporter John Hale, about a televised debate in Lewiston, reads:
"The Senate hopefuls did not bring up a dispute over opposition research that has pitted Republican Susan Collins against Democrat Joseph Brennan...."
But since each of the four biggest papers in Maine enjoys a virtual monopoly in its circulation area, whether or not you learned that the man the BDN insisted on calling a ``private investigator'' was in fact not a licensed P.I. , was not shadowing Collins and did not have a ``checkered'' past depended in large part on where in the state you lived.
The race ended with Collins defeating Brennan by 32,196 votes, with a full 30,744 of the vote difference turning up in the BDN circulation area.
Not at all shy, the BDN crowed about the part it had played in the outcome. A post-election analysis by BDN reporter A. J. Higgins the day after the vote states:
Shortly after the election, Collins hired away Mark Woodward, the BDN's chief editorial writer whose editorial pages had printed four complimentary editorials including the paper's two endorsements of Collins. Woodward is now press secretary in Collins' Washington senate office, and is in regular communication with John Day.
This report will examine the issues raised by the Bangor Daily News in the waning days of the campaign, both politically and journalistically.
Politically: What buttons on the voting public did the Collins campaign push, with the help of the BDN, in successfully insisting that her opponent or any group supporting him had crossed a line of decency by hiring someone to check her public record? And what part did the John Hathaway fiasco that had occurred in Maine's GOP primary the previous spring have to do with any of this?
Journalistically: How far did various papers go in defending the people's right to know? What was left unsaid, or undone, by the media? Also, did the BDN play fair or loose with the facts? And who leaked the ``private investigator'' story to John Day?
This analysis was written by someone who comes to the task with two unusual backgrounds: not only as a former U.S. Senate candidate who lost to Joe Brennan in the 1996 Democratic primary, but also as a former bureau chief and copy editor for the Bangor Daily News, with a solid knowledge of the inner workings of the Maine media. Those experiences, and others too numerous to mention, bring a unique behind-the-scenes perspective to this report.
In the Beginning
Three Republicans -- Susan Collins, John Hathaway and Robert Monks -- were candidates in Maine's 1996 U.S. Senate primary, each hoping to be the Republican nominee in the battle for the seat being vacated by Sen. William Cohen, who had announced his retirement. The primary election was set for June 11.
On Wednesday, June 5, less than a week before the primary, the Boston Globe and the Portland Press Herald broke separate front page, staff-written stories about sexual abuse allegations Hathaway had faced in Alabama in 1990. That state's investigation, which was still open, revolved around a 12-year-old girl who had babysat for his five children.
``W. John Hathaway faced a serious criminal allegation involving a relationship with a minor female in Alabama, but the case was never prosecuted because authorities feared that it would traumatize the girl, according to James H. Evans, the former attorney general of Alabama,'' the Portland Press Herald story by Steve Campbell begins.
`` `The allegations were very, very serious and involved a minor,' said Jimmy Evans, the former [Alabama] attorney general. `At the request of the family, and based on the recommendations of psychological professionals, the case was not pursued for fear of further traumatizing the minor,' '' the Boston Globe story by Stephen Kurkjian and Royal Ford reported.
The Bangor Daily News front-page story that day, ``Hathaway may face allegation of abuse,'' written by John Day, reported that ``Rumors circulated among campaign workers Tuesday that The Boston Globe had assigned its `Spotlight' investigative team to look into the incident. The Globe editor confirmed Tuesday night that the paper was running a story about Hathaway in Wednesday's edition, but...would not indicate the nature of any allegations in the story regarding Hathaway...''
The Bangor Daily News had gotten scooped.
In the ensuing week, Hathaway would repeatedly deny the allegations, and repeatedly change details of his story when they were refuted by official sources. Hathaway also repeatedly tried to shift the focus from the still-outstanding allegations in Alabama to the complicity of one of his opponents, Robert Monks, in leaking the story to the newspapers. In that way, the media itself became a large part of the message.
Judging by the stories, Hathaway's diversionary tactic worked, more so at some papers than at others.
Under the headline ``Maine candidate faults opponent,'' the June 6, 1996 Boston Globe's follow-up story reported Hathaway's deflection attempts this way:
The only other report on this issue in the Boston Globe was on June 9, the Sunday before the election. The story, ``Maine Senate race turns on ugliness,'' by Royal Ford and Denise Goodman, opens this way:
The Portland Press Herald shifted farther than the Boston Globe in focusing on the allegations that Monks had leaked the story. The front page second-day story June 6 had the headline:
But two sidebar stories deal with the Monks connection:
Hathaway goes on the offense against Monks
`Dirty pool' politics, media coverage bother hometown voters.
The first sidebar story, an analysis by Joshua L. Weinstein, reads in part:
- ...Despite all his anti-Monks rhetoric, Hathaway provided no proof Wednesday that Monks was behind what he called a smear campaign. In fact, Hathaway confirmed that he had been investigated in 1990 and 1991 by Alabama authorities who questioned him about a relationship with the young girl.
- Indeed, those allegations have been common knowledge in political circles for some time. State Republican leaders as well as officials in all three Republican senatorial campaigns have known about the Alabama investigation. It was widely known within the camps of Monks and Susan Collins, the third Republican running for the Senate.
- The only thing Hathaway could offer up Wednesday was something Monks admitted to reporters a day earlier: That Monks hired an ``opposition researcher'' to probe the Alabama allegations surrounding Hathaway.
- Monks acknowledged that some people working with his campaign may have discussed the matter with the media. Yet he insisted he had nothing to do with it.
- ``It is absolutely groundless to accuse me of having anything to do with it, said Monks, shaking with anger. ``Bob Monks didn't raise these questions.
The second sidebar story, by Beth Kaiman, showed just how effectively Hathaway's ploy had worked. Several voters interviewed said they would have preferred to have been left in the dark, and put the blame for the whole scandal squarely on Monks' shoulders, with the media as co-conspirators.
PPH columnist Jim Brunelle added to the perception that tipping off a reporter is somehow underhanded. Brunelle had this to say in his June 6 column:
On June 7, under the headline ``Hathaway, Monks swap charges in debate, the story by Edward D. Murphy begins this way:
Robert A. G. Monks demanded an apology from W. John Hathaway during a televised debate Thursday for labeling his U. S. Senate campaign as the source of news stories about an investigation into Hathaway's alleged sexual abuse of a minor girl in Alabama.
Monks did not get his apology.
On Friday, June 7, PPH columnist Bill Nemitz chastised Hathaway for badly using his family at a press conference, but he also took on Monks:
An analysis by Steve Campbell in the June 9, 1996 Maine Sunday Telegram, states in part:
In the BDN's first story, on the scandal about to break in the Boston Globe, writer Day pointed out that even though the paper was about to be scooped, it hadn't been entirely left out of the loop. Day quoted several unnamed sources including ``a neutral political strategist,'' who said ``Everybody has known about this baby-sitter file for nearly three months. The rumor was it would be the `silver bullet' to take out Hathaway.'' He also mentions a ``Washington source,'' who was privy to results of a poll conducted by the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, and unnamed Hathaway aides.
The first part of that early story reported that ``...Terry Holt, a spokesman for Hathaway, claimed that the alleged `baby-sitter' incident was peddled to The Boston Globe by the Robert Monks campaign...''
Other, unnamed, Hathaway aides, however, were blaming the Democrats. The BDN's jump-page sub-headline ``Claim he abused baby sitter in 1980s said to have come from disgruntled Democrat is explained this way:
Privately, Hathaway aides claim that a Washington, D.C.-based private detective turned up the baby-sitter file and has been trying to peddle it to newspaper reporters for several weeks. The detective, Terry Lenzner, was a former Democratic staff investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee. His firm reportedly does ``opposition research'' for many candidates.
Right name, wrong party. As the Boston Globe was to report the next day, Lenzner was working for Monks.
Faced with a confirmed sex-abuse scandal involving a pre-teen baby sitter and the most conservative of the three Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, the Bangor Daily News did a curious thing. The day after the scandal broke, Thursday, June 6, both front page BDN headlines focus on the Monks connection rather than on the sex-abuse scandal swirling around Hathaway. Based on the lead front page headline, ``Hathaway blasts Monks' `sleaze ', it was hard to tell which candidate was being accused of sexual improprieties with a minor.
The second story sports the headline: ``Monks denies peddling story: Senate candidate says Hathaway `slinging mud' by blaming him.
That same day, in his regular political column, John Day wrote:
Monks' aides deny leaking the story to The Globe or to the Portland Press Herald, which conducted its own investigation. Proving that is impossible. No reporter will ever admit he was spoon-fed a story by a politician.
Two days later, the lead story in the weekend edition was an analysis by A. Jay Higgins. Under the headline: ``Hathaway case hurts Monks: Probe of candidate breaks taboo,'' Higgins wrote:
Higgins goes on to report that rumors about ``this `thing' about him [Hathaway] and a baby sitter'' had been circulated as early as March by people who ``were not big Hathaway supporters.'' Higgins further explained that ``Hathaway was trying to sell Maine reporters a theory Thursday that somehow, leaking a report of a possible statutory rape case to the press was equitable (sic) to -- or worse than -- an adult having sex with a child.''
Despite mounting evidence to the contrary in his paper and others, Higgins proclaimed, ``The Maine press didn't buy it.''
Clearly the Maine voters were buying it. Day, in political column that same pre-election Sunday, pointed out:
...The Maine Christian Civic League, which one assumes would object to wealthy middle-aged men sexually preying on 12-year-old girls, issued a statement Friday saying religious folk should take Hathaway's word that he is the victim of a nefarious smear campaign orchestrated by rich-guy Monks and his heathen allies in the media. Obviously, there's a disconnect here.
The media in general being viewed with suspicion by Maine voters, Day noted that out-of-state media were held in even worse regard:
...The Boston Globe and its parent company, New York Times, are twin pillars of the hated East Coast liberal establishment. They [Hathaway supporters] ask, with all of the Kennedy scandals, why is The Globe up here provoking World War III between two GOP millionaires? Nothing short of the baby sitter's mother coming to Portland to denounce John Hathaway -- and that could happen -- would give right-wingers pause to reflect...
Despite those observations, Day wrote:
None of this fully explains...why a U.S. Senate candidate -- accused of seducing a 12-year-old girl -- goes up in the polls after that fact is uncovered by the media. What a country.
In fact, Hathaway had gained considerable ground with Maine voters, bounding ahead of Monks not only in the polls, but on election day. When the votes were counted, Monks, after spending more than $2 million of his own money on his primary race, garnered a mere 12,943 of them, 13.5 percent of the total. Hathaway pulled in 29,792, for 31 percent of the Republican vote. Collins won with 53,339 votes, 55.5 percent of the total cast in the Republican primary.
The failure of the journalistic community in all this was profound.
None of the political reporters (or their editors) seemed to feel it was the responsibility of their papers to routinely do extensive background checks on political candidates who were running for some of the highest and most powerful elected offices in the nation. If the fourth estate refuses to do its homework, how are voters to know what they are voting for?
And despite reporters in both of the state's major papers admitting in print to having heard rumors as long as three months before the election, none seemed to be embarrassed at their failure to take more than a weak stab at investigating such serious charges until the last days of the campaign, and then only when faced with a scoop by an out-of-state paper.
On top of that, none of the papers challenged the public's belief, stated in several published interviews, that opposition research is a felony, with the only appropriate punishment being death at the ballot box. In fact, the reporters and columnists fed that frenzy, with phrases about ``scum-sucking bottom dwellers,'' claims that ``Monks' fingerprints are all over that one,'' talk of violating ``an ancient state GOP taboo.'' None of the reporters had the courage to try to stop the lynching of the guy who (allegedly) was only pointing out that the emperor-wannabe had been investigated for having no clothes in the presence of a 12-year-old girl.
And while ``no reporter will ever admit he was spoon-fed a story by a politician,'' the fact is that reporters are spoon-fed stories all the time. That's what campaign press secretaries do during a campaign and what political press secretaries do afterwards. It is an integral part of the procedure. That's how the system works.
And although many reporters are unwilling to admit it, the reality is that many, if not most, of those feedings show some results at the other end.
The Race To The Bottom
It was in this political climate that John Day sat down to write his ``expose'' three weeks before the Nov. 5, 1996 general election.
Before it was all over, the BDN had published 16 stories, including five opinion columns and an editorial, on the issue. Except for three Associated Press stories (``Brennan demands apology,'' Oct. 16; ``Collins labeled `hypocrite','' Oct. 18; and ``Newspaper accused of bias,'' Oct. 22), all the stories support Collins' contention, that she had been under ``surveillance'' by a shady character hired by the Democrats to dig up dirt on her, and that, despite all his denials, somehow Joe Brennan was to blame.
The Portland Press Herald, in comparison, published 14 stories which dealt with the ``private investigator'' issue at least in part, including four opinion columns and two editorials. All of them, including the very first, debunked all of Collins' claims.
The Lewiston Sun-Journal published seven stories, including three AP stories, and an editorial endorsing Collins. All the staff-written stories either downplayed the controversy or chastised Collins, including one written by Liz Chapman under the headline: ``Analysts predict Collins' tactic may backfire.'' The editorial, while endorsing Collins, noted:
Although the contest between Collins, the Republican, and Democrat Joseph Brennan has degenerated recently into a playground spat over allegations of improper opposition research, we prefer to view this episode as an aberration in the well-documented careers of two experienced public servants. They and we deserve better, and the last few days of the campaign ought to see a new focus on issues, not ill-mannered accusations....
The Kennebec Journal in Augusta, a Guy Gannett paper, published seven stories in which this issue was mentioned, including two Guy Gannett Service stories by Steve Campbell of the Portland Press Herald, two AP stories, two editorials and one opinion column.
One KJ editorial tried to diffuse the situation, concluding ``It would be a shame if the [election] outcome hinged on such a foolish development.'' The second one endorsed Collins for the seat, noting: ``the campaign was a relatively clean one, although recently twisted by so-called opposition research and muddy campaign gambits played through selected news media.''
The opinion piece, by KJ editorial director Davis Rawson (who incidentally once worked at the BDN), was much stronger, calling the printed efforts of the BDN in Collins' behalf ``jingoistic journalism.'' Rawson wrote:
- You've got to feel sorry for Joe Brennan. Not only is he facing a tough election campaign against the well-heeled Susan Collins but he's fighting against guys who buy ink by the barrel...
- The antipathy toward Brennan in certain journalistic corners borders on the irrational...
- Collins, being the geographically correct candidate and of course a Republican, is getting the best spin by far -- fawningly sympathetic -- from upstate writers closely connected to her campaign's deep throat operators.
- Brennan is portrayed as evil incarnate, every past transgression -- most of them manufactured -- dragged out and highlighted. And of course any criticism of the reporting -- as for example, describing it as a ``smear campaign'' -- has been ridiculed in a condescending manner equal to anything penned by the venomous William Loeb in his heyday...
- Underreported, in fact barely acknowledged, was the concession by Collins' campaign manager, the wily Bob Tyrer, that he had no evidence the ``dirt-for-hire consultant'' (as one writer put it) had done anything improper, unusual or unsavory, despite his alleged ``checkered past.''
- Meanwhile, back in Brennan's hometown, other journalists have been engaged in a form of damage control, producing balanced pieces that have escaped upstate readers....
The View from Bangor North
Those newspaper readers living in the Bangor Daily News circulation area were treated to an orchestrated series of supposedly impartial news stories loaded with innuendo and unsupported red-button words or phrases:
dirt-for-hire #9; #9;
subterfuge #9; #9;
leaked to the media
poking around her employment records
less lawyerlike tone
The first of these show up in the first sentence of the Bangor Daily News, front-page ``analysis'' of Oct. 12, which stated flatly that Susan Collins ``is being shadowed by a dirt-for-hire consultant with a checkered past.'' None of that later turned out to be true.
Further on in the story, Day twice stated flatly that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee had acknowledged hiring a Washington-based private investigator. Halfway through the lengthy story, however, we discover that the DSCC only acknowledged hiring a researcher, Robert K. Norris, ``to look at public records.''
But that didn't keep the Collins campaign from saying the revelation was reminiscent of the ``sordid events'' swirling around Monks and Hathaway at the end of the GOP primary campaign.
The only problem was that her opponent, Joe Brennan, denied playing any role in the DSCC's hiring of Norris, and neither Day nor Collins could prove otherwise.
``The Maine Brennan Campaign has not authorized, commissioned, paid for or benefited from any professional opposition research. Nor will it ever,'' Brennan's campaign said in a written statement.
The Collins campaign didn't let Brennan's denial get in the way of a good press release:
By hiring a private investigator to try to dig up dirt on Susan Collins, Joe Brennan has proved himself unworthy to serve in a Senate seat held by Margaret Chase Smith and Bill Cohen.
Campaign aide Bob Tyrer was further quoted as saying:
It defies belief that any Maine politician would hire a private investigator after the sordid events of earlier this year during the Republican primary. The fact that [the DSCC] not only did so, but hired a firm with a very checkered track record is a measure of his desperation to win at any cost.
Day makes it clear near the end of his opening story that he expected the issue he raised to make or break Brennan's campaign:
- The DSCC's hiring of a private investigator couldn't have come at a worse time for Brennan. A Portland television poll just days ago showed Brennan moving ahead of Collins for the first time in the race....
- The DSCC's hiring of Norris is the first major controversy confronting both Senate candidate in what -- until now -- has been a relatively tame contest.
- The way Brennan defuses, and Collins exploits, the private detective issue will likely shape the final three weeks of the race.
The next account in the Bangor Daily News, this one written by A. Jay Higgins and appearing the following Monday (the paper has no Sunday edition), shows Brennan trapped in a ``when did you stop beating your wife?''-type situation, with Collins insisting that her reputation was being ``smeared'' by someone hired by the DSCC looking at public records she had filed when she worked for the government in Massachusetts in 1993:
- Citing Brennan as the direct beneficiary of any information the probe might have uncovered, Collins said it was difficult for her to believe Brennan was out of the snoop loop at all times.
- The Brennan campaign, which has accepted more than $17,000 from the DSCC, felt no particular obligation Sunday to apologize for the probe that it never requested. Unless an apology or additional information is forthcoming, though, Collins will find it hard to treat her opponent with any modicum of respect.
- ``Until Joe Brennan gives a full accounting to the people of Maine of what happened, what he knew, what his staff and his surrogates knew and when they knew it, this issue will continue to cloud the debate of the issues in the final weeks before the election,'' she said.
- ``The best thing that Joe Brennan could do would be to come clean, instruct the DSCC to lay out all the facts and then perhaps we can get this issue behind us. But as long as there are all these unanswered questions about this firm, which has such an unsavory reputation, then the issue is going to remain a cloud over the remaining days of the campaign.
- Brennan was busily back on the campaign trail Sunday, but Todd Webster, his press secretary, maintained his boss had not ``authorized, paid for or benefited from any professional opposition research.'' That, he said, was as much of a response as Collins was going to get. Webster assumed a less lawyerlike tone in addressing Day and the Bangor Daily News.
- ``This was a malicious attempt to smear Brennan's name,'' Webster said. ``This guy was not an investigator as John Day and Susan Collins said. He's a researcher with the DSCC. I don't know that this guy [Robert W. Norris] has a private investigator's license, carries a gun or that he's Magnum. This is a nonissue.''...
- ``It's absolutely ludicrous and preposterous to compare hiring a private investigator to snoop on my background with our doing research on Joe Brennan's voting record,'' she [Collins] told a television reporter...``Those responsible for hiring a private investigator to try to dig up dirt on me are guilty of a serious affront to the people of Maine,'' she said. ``Such tactics are deplorable and have no place in Maine politics. However Joe Brennan tries to distance himself from the facts, there is no doubt that he is the intended beneficiary of what was done.''
The next day, Oct. 15, a story by John Hale begins this way:
- BANGOR -- The press conference at the airport Marriott was designed to showcase Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's Support for Republican Senate candidate Susan Collins, but the topic soon changed to private investigators.
- All of the principal speakers at Monday's press conference expressed varying levels of shock and outrage at last weekend's news that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had hired a private investigator to look into Collins' background.
- The blame for the clandestine research was leveled at Democratic Senate candidate Joseph E. Brennan, though Brennan protested he had told the national committee not to do private research and they had done it anyway.... 9;
(By contrast, the Associated Press version of that event, which appeared in the Lewiston Sun-Journal, mentions the probe of Collins' public record in the last few paragraphs at the very end of the story, after the phrase: ``On another matter,...'')
On Page 2 of that same day's paper, under the headline, ``Munjoy Hill Joe: The glass jaw of Maine politics, BDN's Day in his political column continued to hit below the belt:
- Given what happened to Bob Monks last June -- after Monks hired a private investigator to track down rumors alleging that fellow Republican John Hathaway seduced a 12-year-old baby sitter -- only a complete idiot would get mixed up with a Washington-based `opposition research' company. Certainly not one that disseminated totally bogus allegations against a Republican Massachusetts congressional candidate four years ago.
- Brennan did.
- Confronted Thursday morning with proof that the senior partner in NK Associates, one of Washington's top dirt-for-hire consultants, was poking around into Collins' past, Brennan put out a statement that might have been drafted by lawyers in the Nixon White House.
- ``[We] have not authorized, commissioned, paid for or benefited from any professional opposition research,'' the statement said....
Notice that, just in case Collins' prior reference to ``What did he know and when did he know it?'' had been too subtle, Day decided to zoom right in on the Nixon White House, linking Brennan with yet another scandal in which he was not involved.
The paper's editorial that Tuesday read in part:
- The weekend political fracas involving Democrat Joe Brennan and a sleuth hired by the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to ``dig up dirt'' on a justifiably outraged Susan Collins has lurched the campaign for U.S. Senate farther from the issues that concern Maine voters.
- Much rehashed in the past few days, but still fuzzy in important details, the hiring of the Washington-based operative by the Democrats' national tacticians, apparently unbeknown to Brennan, has given his campaign with Collins an odd and sudden twist...
- ...The nosing around of Robert W. Norris, a hireling of the national DSCC, into Collins' background has offended both the candidate and the public. In the euphemistic language of negative political campaigning, his mission is referred to as ``oppositional research.'' As the GOP's dirty primary illustrated clearly, however, such research, whether conducted by someone called a consultant, researcher or investigator, can lead in unexpected directions and to ugly conclusions, for everyone...
The View from Portland
Meanwhile, the view from Portland was very different.
The Oct. 13 Maine Sunday Telegram (the Sunday paper of the Portland Press Herald), in a story headlined ``Collins: Democrats tried to `dig up dirt,' ''and written by Mark Shanahan, reported on two press conferences which were:
- ...hastily convened after the Bangor Daily News reported Saturday that the national Democratic organization last month hired Robert W. Norris to look into Collins' background.
- ``Those responsible for hiring a Washington-based private investigator to secretly probe into my background are guilty of a serious affront to the people of Maine,'' Collins said.
- ...At her press conference Saturday, Collins called the hiring of Norris ``despicable'' and a kind of ``surveillance.'' She said Brennan owes the people of Maine a full accounting of ``what he knew and when he knew it.
The MST quoted Brennan as saying that he was unaware the researcher had been hired by the DSCC. But, parting company with the paper to the north, the Portland Press Herald also pointed out that looking at public records is considered a given in political campaigns:
- In many high-profile races, hiring experts to research an opponent's political background -- including their voting record, legislative initiatives, positions on issues and media coverage -- is standard practice....
- ``My initial reaction to this is `So what?' '' said James Roberts, an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine and a registered Republican. ``Hiring someone to go over a candidate's voting record is pretty routine stuff.
Steve Jarding, communications director for the DSCC, the organization which had hired Norris, also emphasized the normalcy of Norris' work:
``This is not cloak-and-dagger stuff,'' Jarding said. ``We hired a guy to research public documents. (Collins) has a public record in Massachusetts and we had someone go there and look at it. If surveillance is sitting in a library, we should do more of it in America''...
Shanahan also talked to Norris, and asked him about Collins' charge that he had her under surveillance.
`I have never in my life done surveillance,'' said Norris, 42. ``I did not do anything but look at public records. Any suggestion that I did (surveillance) is completely inaccurate. There was no effort to look at the candidate's private life at all.''
A front page PPH report on Monday, Oct. 14, this one written by staffer Ted Cohen, carries this headline: ``GOP filing complaint on behalf of Collins: The state party will ask the FEC to probe reports that the Brennan camp hired an investigator.'' In that story, Collins details what she found so offensive:
a detailed financial report,'' she said, containing information about her mortgages, her income and her personal finances. ``They weren't researching my position on budget cuts,'' she said.
- ``One document they got was
The document which Collins found the viewing of so offensive was a Statement of Financial Interest, which she was required to fill out for the period just before and during the time she was deputy treasurer for the state of Massachusetts in 1993. As a candidate for governor in 1994, and as a candidate for U.S. Senate in 1996, Collins also had to fill out a financial disclosure statement. Such forms are one of the means by which the public can find out what, if any, conflicts of interest a candidate might have on legislation they might be asked to vote on.
Curiously, the issue which prompted a front page story in the Portland Press Herald that Monday, the filing of a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission by the state GOP, was buried in the BDN, taking up only a line and a half in a sidebar story about a women's rally in Bangor in honor of Brennan.
(More full disclosure -- This writer is quoted in that sidebar story as saying at that rally that ``Every politician who runs for office, particularly federal office, has to expect intense public scrutiny. You must be able to stand on your record and be comfortable with the skeletons in your closet. I am simply amazed that Susan Collins doesn't understand this....If Susan Collins cannot take the heat that comes from the exposure of public information, she should stop trying to get into the kitchen.'')
The fact that the BDN downplayed the GOP complaint, filed with the FEC on Oct. 14, the same day as the news stories, is curious because the BDN is prominently referenced in the FEC document. The formal complaint extensively quotes the BDN story of Oct. 12 in its listing of facts, including reference to a ``dirt for hire consultant with a checkered past'' to look into Susan Collins' past. The GOP report also picks up the language of the Oct. 12 BDN story in stating that ``the hiring came immediately after public comments by DSCC chairman Sen. Bob Kerry criticizing Brennan for running a lackluster campaign and not being hard enough on Collins, according to the newspaper.''
The Federal Elections Commission this month (August 1997) confirmed that it had received the complaint, but said no other information could be made available because the file was still active.
By Tuesday, Oct. 15, the headline in the Portland Press Herald was a rebuttal to its Sunday MST headline. ``No proof offered that rivals sought `dirt' on Collins: A Republican aide says there is no evidence a Democratic researcher did anything unusual.'' Written by Steve Campbell, it states:
- Republicans have no evidence that Democrats did anything improper in hiring a researcher to examine public records relating to the Republican Senate hopeful, Susan Collins, her top aide conceded Monday.
- ...on Monday, Collins' campaign manager, Bob Tyrer, acknowledged that he had no evidence that the researcher did anything unusual or unethical in examining Collins' record....
- ...Collins acknowledged that her campaign has conducted similar research about Brennan's background, but the Collins organization has not hired a professional researcher to do the work...
- Collins acknowledged that her campaign has conducted opposition research on Brennan, consisting of a review of his voting record, campaign reports and personal financial statements.
Remarkably, even after those admissions, and after the PPH had reported that Norris was not a private investigator, ``doesn't have a private investigator's license, and does not do the kind of work that private investigators usually do, such as following people,'' Collins refused to apologize to Brennan and insisted she was ``the one who's owed an apology.''
`I'm not the one who hired a private investigator,'' she said. ``If they hadn't done it, this wouldn't be a story.''
Near the end of his story, Campbell said rumors had sprung up that Collins had leaked the ``private investigator'' story to the Bangor Daily News:
- Some political observers, including Brennan loyalists, suggest that the Collins campaign leaked the story to the Bangor newspaper in hopes of helping her campaign...
- On Monday, Collins denied that she or anyone in her campaign leaked the story. She said that she was not aware that the Democrats had hired a researcher until the Bangor newspaper notified her campaign last week.
Three Portland Press Herald opinion writers also decided it was time to take Collins to task.
The lead editorial in the Portland Press Herald Oct. 15 chastised Collins for trying to foment a Hathaway-Monks style rebellion:
- Attempts to boil a run-of-the-mill political ploy into an election-deciding controversy are doing Susan Collins' campaign for U.S. Senate little good.
- Collins would do better to stick to the issues of the Senate campaign. Otherwise, voters may conclude they are issues she is eager to obscure...
- ...the temptation to see history repeat itself may have led the Collins campaign into serious misjudgment.
Columnist Bill Nemitz the following day, under a headline ``St. Susan gets mud on her hands,'' said the ``private investigator'' issue:
- ...was an ill-conceived (and totally transparent) attempt to duplicate the good fortune Collins enjoyed last June, when her GOP primary opponents, John Hathaway, torpedoed each other (and themselves) into political oblivion...
- First, she can't prove that researcher Robert Norris, working for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, did anything improper...
- Collins' other sin is that of hypocrisy -- and this time there is proof...
Nemitz said Collins' camp had pulled a Brennan quote out of context, making it appear he was anti-Israel, and handed it out as a flyer at a forum at Temple Beth El in Portland. The full quote showed that Brennan's criticism was aimed at Israeli soldiers for dragging Palestinian youths out of their homes in the middle of the night and beating them senseless, Nemitz reported. Collins nevertheless refused to apologize to Brennan for the deliberate distortion.
On Oct. 17, Jim Brunelle, in talking about campaign silliness, wrote:
- Here at home, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Susan Collins made a major issue out of the fact that Democrats were actually looking at her public record.
- She insisted that her opponent, Joe Brennan, disavow the research effort. Brennan disavowed it, whereupon Collins filed a complaint against him with the Federal Elections Commission. Goofy.
Elsewhere in the state, the Kennebec Journal and Lewiston Sun-Journal covered the first few days of the story with wire reports.
At this point the story gets cross-referenced, with reports in one paper quoted in another.
Brennan demanded an apology from Collins, based on her comments in the Portland Press Herald. The BDN ran the six-paragraph AP wire story Oct. 16, under the headline, ``Brennan demands apology: No wrongdoing found in investigator's work'':
- AUGUSTA -- Democratic Senate candidate Joseph Brennan on Tuesday called on Republican rival Susan Collins to apologize for ``deliberately misleading'' people about an investigator hired by Democrats to examine her record.
- Brennan said the Collins campaign had ``conceded'' there was no evidence of impropriety by a ``researcher.''...
- ...Steve Abbott, a consultant for Collins, said the Republican candidate had no plans to apologize....
On Oct. 18, the Maine Democratic Party Chair, Victoria Murphy, entered the fray. The AP wire story ran in three papers with these headlines:
-- Portland Press Herald, ``Collins' tactics called hypocrisy'';
-- Bangor Daily News, ``Collins is labeled `hypocrite': GOP accused of seeking records on Brennan, wife'';
-- Lewiston Sun-Journal, ``Dems say GOP tactics simple case of hypocrisy'':
Defending the Practice
A week after the controversy began, two papers, the Portland Press Herald and the Lewiston Sun-Journal, finally shifted from an ``everybody does it'' stance to one which promoted opposition research as a good thing.
The Portland Press Herald ran a Steve Campbell analysis under the headline:
Big political fuss made over a routine practice:
Political analysts from both parties have doubts about Susan Collins' claims
that her rival's research went too far
- Last spring, Susan Collins dispatched a campaign worker to Cape Elizabeth Town Hall to comb through the voting records of her Republican primary rival, Robert A. G. Monks Jr.
- The Collins campaign wanted to find evidence that Monks had failed to vote in previous elections to show that he hadn't spent much time in Maine.
- They got what they wanted. Then they turned that information over to a reporter, who published it.
- It was an example of what politicians call ``opposition research'' -- checking out the background of an opponent in an attempt to gain an advantage. It is a routine part of political campaigning.
- But it has suddenly become a controversial practice...
Campbell goes on to quote several prominent Republicans who were disappointed in Collins over this issue:
- ``If all they have done is take a look at public records, then that's a pretty standard practice in any campaign,'' said Ted O'Meara, the former head of the Maine Republican Party and a Collins supporter...
- ``I think (the Collins campaign) is trying to make hay out of this'' by making Brennan come across as the bad guy, said [Republican activist Dan] Billings [of Bowdoinham], who managed [Republican] Rick Bennett's unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1994....But in this case, Billings said, ``there is nothing I've seen that has been out of the ordinary. So far, all that seems to have come out is that he was compiling information on her public records....
- ``All political organizations do research on opposing candidates, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just being smart,'' said Willis Lyford, who served as former [Republican] Gov. John McKernan's spokesman.''
Campbell reported that political insiders agree that opposition research benefits the public by helping to educate voters about relevant issues in a candidate's background.
The reporter also noted that, while protesting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's hiring of a researcher to check her record, Collins had been the recipient of a multi-page report from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, containing information on Brennan's votes, campaign finances and financial disclosures.
Going down a similar road, Lewiston Sun-Journal staffer Liz Chapman in an Oct. 18 story noted:
- Republican Senate hopeful Susan Collins may have blundered politically this week with her daily assault on Joseph Brennan, alleging the former governor conducted a dirty tricks campaign to ``dig up dirt'' on her record, analysts agreed Wednesday.
Chapman goes on to quote Douglas Hodgkin, a Bates College political science professor:
- ``...while she may be attempting to appeal to the very substantial distaste voters have for negative campaigning, I think voters deep down do make the distinction between what is relevant to the campaign.''
- Hodgkin said the public is well-served by opposition research, whereby candidates scour their opponents' record on important issues and use it to define the differences between their campaigns...
- ``We as voters need to count especially on the respective sides to present not only their own positives, but also the negatives about their opposition,'' Hodgkin argued.
- ``Voters do not have the time or the resources to dig this information out themselves, and it's extremely important that it is brought to their attention,'' he said.
Now, what about Norris' alleged ``checkered past''?
It had been a full week since John Day ``broke'' the ``private investigator'' story, and he devoted his Saturday column to explaining his ``checkered past'' reference. Taking all the non-Norris background out of Day's lengthy account, we are left with these John Day-reported facts:
1. Robert Norris had been hired to do research in 1992 by Congressman John Olver of Massachusetts, a Democrat who had narrowly won a 1991 election to fill the seat of Silvio Conte, who had died of cancer. Olver's Republican opponent in the 1992 race was a former Congressional staffer of Conte's named Patrick L. Larkin.
2. Norris uncovered copies of U.S. House disbursement records detailing payments of $15,800 to ``Patrick L. Larkin'' for a ``no show'' job for former New Jersey Rep. Jim Courter in the early 1980s. Olver went public with the information.
3. Larkin denied Olver's allegations. ``After some effort,'' Day reported, ``Larkin's campaign persuaded the U.S. House clerk, a Democratic appointee, to release pay records pertaining to the controversy. The documents proved there were two Patrick L. Larkins -- with different Social Security numbers. Courter joined the fray, telling reporters, `At no time did Massachusetts congressional candidate Larkin work for me.' ''
4. Olver issued a written statement apologizing to Larkin, and demanded that Norris refund the $8,500 fee paid to him and his organization. Norris reportedly refused, saying, ``I looked up the facts. It was their decision about how they used that information.''
5. Olver still won the election over Larkin, by 10 percentage points.
Norris admittedly made a big mistake during a 1992 campaign. Checking public records, he had mistakenly assumed that two people active in politics, both Republicans, both with the same first and last names and same middle initial, were the same person.
But an honest mistake, even a big one, does not make a ``checkered past,'' a phrase which implies deliberate deception, if not outright illegality or even court convictions. Day presents no other evidence of Norris' ``checkered past.'' Yet in his Oct. 19 column, Day called the case of mistaken identity ``a tale of dirty tricks...with a double-identity twist so bizarre it might have come out of a Charles Dickens novel.''
Oddly enough, Day did not put the ``checkered past'' label on an ad consultant for Susan Collins who was then embroiled in a national controversy after having been caught faking a photograph used in a television ad on behalf of Virginia Sen. John Warner. In fact, Day was absolutely laudatory in his Oct. 15 BDN column, describing Gregg Stevens as ``one of the national Republican Party's hottest media mavens'' a young man with Maine ties who was once Olympia Snowe's top aide and who ``is producing Collins' camera-friendly television commercials.'' Day reported that Stevens had:
- ``...employed sophisticated computer graphics to superimpose the head of Warner's Democratic opponent over the body of another politician, to make it appear the challenger was shaking hands with former Gov. Doug Wilder -- Virginia's most unpopular political figure. Warner fired Stevens and took responsibility for the sleazy trick...
- ``Collins didn't dodge or weave. She pointed out that she is just one of Stevens' 20 GOP candidates this year; and insisted that she retains complete editorial control over all the ads the Washington consultant has produced for the Maine race. Stevens' deplorable conduct in Virginia, Collins' aides insisted, certainly was not replicated in Maine...''
Also not replicated in Maine was Stevens getting fired to disassociate Collins from Stevens nationally-exposed ``dirty tricks'' mentality. And that seemed to be just fine with Day. In fact, he wrote, ``Collins seems to be weathering the aftermath from Gregg Stevens.''
Apparently an embarrassing but honest mistake by a Democratic operative in another race in another state four years ago is worse than a deliberate, unethical, admittedly ``sleazy trick'' by a hot Republican ``media maven'' with ties to Collins and Snowe.
By Day's accounting, what for Norris was a checkered past was for Stevens a checkered flag.
Near the end of his Oct. 19 column, Day makes this remarkable statement:
- Norris undoubtedly is involved in many more opposition research projects that do not make the newspapers. It took a fluke to finger his involvement in Maine's Senate race.
It was not a fluke. But more on that later.
Stuff Hits the Fan
For Maine's small crowd of media watchers (which is different from being a media consumer), the high point in this whole situation came on Oct. 20, when Steve Campbell in his regular political column for the Maine Sunday Telegram nailed fellow political columnist Day for being in bed with the Collins' campaign (note: the repeated ``...'' and parentheses ``( )'' in the quoted text below appeared that way in the original column. In this instance it does not designate that something was left out, or added):
or years, John Day of the Bangor Daily News has been a thorn in Joe Brennan's side.
The next day Brennan's campaign called on the Bangor Daily News to remove Day from covering the Senate race. Maine's only Democratic National Committeewoman, Gwethalynn Phillips of Bangor, held a press conference and released copies of the e-mail message Day mistakenly sent to the DSCC. Despite its close proximity to the site of the press conference, the Bangor Daily News did not send a reporter, instead running the AP version of the event in its Tuesday's paper -- the same day its staff-written story on the Lewiston debate made a point of mentioning that opposition research had not been discussed by the candidates.
Despite clear indications on the printed version of the e-mail, none of the news reporters picked up on the probable reason why the e-mail had ended up at the DSCC.
The e-mail message had been sent on October 13 to:
The first address in that string had been assigned to Stephanie Cohen, who at that time was a staffer at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. The second e-mail address in the string was that of Bob Tyrer, Day's target. It looked for all the world like John Day had simply mixed up two Cohens two people of different genders, different political parties, and different first names, but who shared one critical element -- the same last name (Cohen) -- and clicked on the wrong one in his e-mail address log.
To quote John Day out of context, this ironic mistake may best be described as ``a tale of dirty tricks...with a double-identity twist so bizarre it might have come out of a Charles Dickens novel.''
But Day's mistake also begs another, more serious, question: Why would Day expect to reach Tyrer by sending e-mail to Sen. Cohen's office? By law, no campaign activities -- even phone calls, as Al Gore has discovered -- may be conducted in or from federal offices. Tyrer was apparently still using his Senate office e-mail account on October 13, three weeks before the 1996 election, even though he had taken a leave of absence from his job in Sen. William S. Cohen's office months before that to work on Collins' campaign.
Meanwhile, an Oct. 24 story by A. Jay Higgins showed the paper's pounding on the issue was having an effect. Under the headline, Poll: Senate race a tossup, Higgins reported on the latest results from a BDN-commissioned survey. Conducted Oct. 18 and 19, the poll showed Collins with a slim 45-to-43 lead over Brennan. But it also showed that:
- When asked if knowledge that a campaign had hired a private investigator to research a political opponent would influence their vote, 4 percent said they would be more likely to vote for that candidate, 32 percent said they would be less likely, 53 percent said it would have no effect and 11 percent were unsure...
- ``I wanna meet those 4 percent,'' said Tyrer.
- ``That question's biased,'' concluded Webster. ``They should be asking them how they'd feel about a candidate that collaborated against her opponent with her hometown newspaper.''
Indeed, that loaded question in the BDN poll closely resembled what is called a ``push-poll,'' a technique usually confined to polls conducted by political campaigns. In a push-poll, a negative issue about a political opponent is reinforced in voters minds by asking ``if you knew that...'', followed by an attitude question about that negative issue.
As Higgins reported, a full third of the electorate polled for the BDN viewed the ``private investigator'' issue in a negative light.
Coming down to the wire
Only scattered mention of the ``private investigator'' issue appeared the last 10 days of the campaign.
The Bangor Daily News profile on Joe Brennan, written by A. Jay Higgins, managed to avoid the issue altogether, but the one on Susan Collins, written by John Hale, contained these four paragraphs:
- Collins has been embroiled with Brennan in a controversy over whether Brennan benefited from a private opposition researcher hired by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to look into Collins' background.
- Collins maintains the man had an unsavory background and may have looked into matters beyond the public record. Brennan maintained the Collins campaign was doing the same kind of research on him.
- Now Collins insists she'd like to get back to the issues and differences between herself and Brennan.
- ``I wish this had not happened,'' she said of the investigator controversy. ``It only increases people's cynicism about the political process, and they're already pretty cynical.''
After pulling their punches for several days, on Saturday, Nov. 2, three days before the election, John Day wrote a column under the headline:
And on Tuesday, Nov. 5, Election Day, the paper which has a policy of not running political letters or opinion pieces beyond Saturday of election week, allowed John Day's column to say:
...Bob Monks and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hired investigators to dig up dirt on their opponents...
Meanwhile, the Portland Press Herald, in the first of five stories on the Senate race, pointed out on Oct. 27 that the Collins campaign:
...has had its share of troubles. Earlier this month, Collins accused the Democratic Party of hiring a private detective to ``shadow'' her, although she did not provide any evidence to back up her claim....
In his Oct. 27 political column, Campbell said Collins was:
- ...Coming on strong with a sharp TV ad from her mentor, Bill Cohen. But her sometimes-nasty temperament gets in her way. First she conjures up an imaginary private eye who is ``shadowing'' her. Now she thinks the media are out to get her. Not acting very senatorial. Grade: C.
In its Oct. 27 editorial endorsing Brennan, the MST states:
- ...Across the state, people feel they know Brennan, which is one reason the attempt by Republican Susan Collins to pin a ``dirty tricks'' label on him backfired so horribly for her. Campaign research done by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (not the Brennan campaign) was no more than what she and many other candidates have done, as subsequent news reports showed.
- If ``dirty tricks'' have been used, it has been by the Collins campaign, in distributing an out-of-context quote on Israel intended to hurt Brennan in the Jewish community. Such a tactic is beneath Collins, yet she has not repudiated it. This is a shame, because she otherwise has earned high marks for her moderate vision of what a U.S. senator should be....
The PPH profile on Collins in the Oct. 30 paper ends with these words:
- ...she complains that Brennan hired an opposition researcher to investigate her background. However, her complaint failed to rally people against Brennan, and disappointed some Collins supporters.
- ``The whole thing with Brennan and the private investigator was run too long and too hard,'' [Duane ``Buzz] Fitzgerald said.
And in the Oct. 27 Lewiston Sun-Journal, writer Bonnie Washuk wrote:
- The controversy in the Senate campaign that has grabbed headlines in recent weeks has been over the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee hiring an investigator to look into Republican candidate Susan Collins' background.
- Brennan: It's just a `cooked-up deal
- Brennan complains that the recent controversy was much ado about nothing, a ``cooked-up'' deal between the Collins campaign and a reporter.
- ``This is a serious matter,'' Brennan said. ``They use all these McCarthy-ism-type of things. This opposition researcher was very negative, but in fact it had nothing to do with me.''
- The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee hired the researcher. ``I had nothing to do with it,'' Brennan said. ``They were trying to hurt me by association with someone I had nothing to do with. That's McCarthyism. It's outrageous, outrageous.''...
- ...Collins said the story was never ``cooked up'' between her staff and any reporter. ``I learned about Norris when I got a call from a reporter the Thursday before the story ran on Saturday. The fact is (the Bangor reporter) John Day did the research and broke a story. He called me.''
Evidence exists, however, that shows Susan Collins knew, or should have known, about Robert Norris long before John Day called her that Thursday.
The fat lady sang
Collins won the election with 49.2 percent of the vote. Brennan pulled in 43.9 percent, with Green Party/Independent candidate John Rensenbrink drawing 3.9 percent and Taxpayers Party William Clarke getting 3.1 percent.
In the Wednesday, Nov. 6 wrap-up, writer A. Jay Higgins summed up the researcher issue this way:
- Brennan's campaign suffered a setback when it reacted to a Bangor Daily News story about the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hiring an investigator to research Collins' background. Collins called a press conference proclaiming her ``outrage'' and demanding an apology from Brennan.
- For the next several days, Brennan responded by attacking the NEWS columnist who wrote the story. Brennan lost nearly two valuable weeks over the investigator charge and spent the balance of the campaign regaining old ground.
Two questions remained following the election:
1. Who leaked the ``private investigator'' story to John Day?
2. What did Norris find when he went to the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission and checked Collins' file?
Any reporter who had investigated the second question would have found the answer to the first.
Robert Norris received two Statement of Financial Interests documents on Susan Collins, for the years 1992 and 1993, from the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission office in Boston when he went there on September 23, 1996 (not on Sept. 27 as John Day reported).
Each eight pages long, the forms document her financial holdings for the year before and the 10 month period (Feb. 8 to Oct. 1, 1993) during which she was deputy treasurer in the Massachusetts Office of the Treasurer and Receiver General. The 1992 report lists a mailing address in Charlestown, Mass., while the 1993 report, filed in April 1994, lists a Sebago Lake, Maine, post office box.
Collins reported she had been employed in 1992 as regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, with an income bracket of between $60,000 and $100,000. Also, she was employed in 1992 as commissioner of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, with an income of between $10,000 and $20,000.
In 1993 she reported she received between $10,000 and $20,000 in income from her job as regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and earned between $1,000 and $5,000 as a self-employed consultant.
In her 1992 report, Collins listed a condominium in Augusta, Maine as an investment or rental property, with an outstanding mortgage of about $31,000. A second property in Standish, Maine, was listed as having an outstanding mortgage of $44,005. In her 1993 report, the only property listed is her principal residence in Standish.
All other sections, including business ownership or equity, leaves of absences, gifts, state or local government securities, other securities and investments, trusts, and other creditor information, are checked as being ``not applicable.''
Pretty routine stuff.
The form Robert Norris filled out to get that information was more interesting.
To get those public documents from the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission Norris had to first fill out an Inspection Request form, present a photo ID to verify identification, and fork over $1 for every document (not every page) he obtained.
The form first asks for ``Filer's Name'' or the person whose Statement of Financial Interests is being requested. Norris printed ``Susan Collins'' in that space.
Below that line is a series of years 1990 through 1995, with a request to ``please circle.'' The years 1992, 1993 and 1994 are circled on the Norris form, with 1993 then crossed out with a big X. The entire row of years has an undulating line down its entire length, appearing to cross everything out.
Beneath that is a line for ``Requester's Name,'' where R. Norris is printed.
The next line asks for ``Affiliation (Person or Organization On Whose Behalf You Are Obtaining This Report) If Any.'' It appears that the word crossed out on that line is not ``NK'' as Day contended (as in NK Associates, Norris' consulting firm), but what appears to be the word ``same.'' Next to it is the word ``self.'' Below that are lines for address, signature and date.
Most interesting, at the very bottom of the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission Inspection Request form which Norris filled out to obtain copies of Collins' statement of financial information forms is the notation: ``A copy of this will be sent to the person whose SFI has been inspected.''
By Massachusetts state statute, Collins had been sent notification of Norris' request to see her public record on the very same day he requested it.
A clerk in the State Ethics Commission office confirmed that Norris only filed one request to inspect documents on Susan Collins, and that Collins apparently received notification of his search, since the notice sent to her had not been returned as undeliverable. The clerk also confirmed that no other individual besides Norris -- no private individual, no other consultant, not even a member of the media -- had sought that SFI information on Susan Collins between June and December, 1996.
Yet despite that statutorial notification of Norris' request sent to her home address, in the three weeks before the Nov. 5 election Susan Collins told two newspaper reporters that she knew nothing of Norris' activities until contacted by John Day two days before he broke the story in the Oct. 12 BDN.
- -- From the Lewiston Sun-Journal, Oct. 27:
Day did not identify the source of this leak to the press, but he implied it was an outsider, someone from Massachusetts, who contacted him.
In his initial story, John Day said: ``The subterfuge [of crossing out either ``same'' or ``NK'' and writing ``self''] failed to slip past a Republican source with ties to the Weld administration who connected Norris' name to a 1992 Massachusetts election controversy.
Near the end of his Oct. 19 column, Day stated: ``It took a fluke to finger his [Norris'] involvement in Maine's Senate race.''
As a deputy-treasurer for the state of Massachusetts in 1993, Susan Collins had ties to the Weld administration. Notification of Norris' visit was sent to Collins' Standish, Maine address on Sept. 23, 1996, the same day Norris received copies of her files.
Could it be that Day's confusion over the date of Norris' visit was due to a ``received 9-27-96'' stamp on Collins' copy of Norris' request form?
Several relevant events have occurred since this report was first issued:
- On Nov. 17, 1997, A. Mark Woodward returned to Bangor, Maine to become executive editor of the Bangor Daily New, after having served about eight months as Washington press secretary to U.S. Senator Susan Collins.
- On Dec. 15, 1997, the Federal Election Commission closed its file on the Republican complaint alleging excessive contributions to Joe Brennan's Senate campaign by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, informing the Maine Republican Party that it would be taking no action in the case.
- On Dec. 28, 1997, the Maine Sunday Telegram printed political reporter Steve Campbell's year-end spoof of the Maine political scene. Listed among the fall events was this item:
In December 2000, John Day bade goodbye to his readers at the Bangor Daily News and retired after more than three decades at that paper. Two months earlier, political reporter Steve Campbell had left the Portland Press Herald to take a job outside journalism.
© Copyright 1997 by Jean Hay, Bangor, Maine
Will the Fourth Estate Take the Fifth?
In the relationship between politics and the media, two recent staff-generated opinions in the Bangor Daily News, along with a fresh libel suit against that paper over its coverage of the 1996 US Senate race, were nothing short of remarkable. ----October 1998
Libel, the Untold Story
What the Bangor Daily News didn't want you to know about the political libel case it settled out of court. ----Nov/Dec 1999
The Story the Bangor Daily News Doesn't Want You to Read,
The Remarkable Op-Ed Piece written by Robert Norris, that the Bangor Daily News published as part of its court settlement. (Reprinted here with permission of the author)----October 23-24, 1999
And Then There's This:
A political dirty trickster who was a bit player in the 1996 Collins saga laments the big money in politics -- when the other guy's team outspends him, out-tricks him, and wins.----May 2000