- Associated Press - Thursday, January 25, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The Maine Republican Party’s executive director said Tuesday that an ethics claim alleging GOP involvement in a conservative website that posts right-slanted news is “completely without merit.”

The Maine Democratic Party accused the Maine Examiner of being a GOP-backed website masquerading as a news organization and asked the Maine Ethics Commission to investigate alleged campaign finance violations.

Democrats pointed to Republican involvement because metadata on some of the photos indicates they came from GOP Executive Director Jason Savage. The template used to create the website and error logs are also linked to someone going by the username “jasonsavage207,” Democrats contend.

Savage declined to address whether he played a role in the website’s creation but said he and the party did nothing wrong.

“We are extremely diligent in reporting all expenses in a timely manner and the Democrat Party’s allegations are without merit,” he said in a brief statement. He declined further comment.

Democrats accused the Maine Examiner of undermining Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin, who lost a Dec. 12 runoff.

And they accused a GOP spokesman of lying when he claimed the Republican Party doesn’t know who’s behind the website.

Phil Bartlett, the Maine Democratic Party chairman, called GOP leaders to “condemn this dishonest behavior and tell the people of Maine that their party should not be led by liars.”

The Sun Journal newspaper reported that a 2010 case sets a precedent. In the Cutler Files case, Dennis Bailey was fined $200 for failing to mention who created and financed an anonymous website he created to slam independent Eliot Cutler.

There’s a media exemption to the reporting requirements, but they don’t apply to parties or individuals like Bailey.

The Maine Examiner wouldn’t qualify for an exemption, either, if it’s funded by a political party.

Bailey said the Examiner differs from a genuine newspaper. “People are getting hoodwinked by these people who aren’t journalists,” Bailey said. “It’s happening all over the country. It’s so easy.”

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