Roy Lenardson, president of Strategic Advocacy
- John Patriquin/Staff photographer
As if the Democratic primary in the Cumberland County Sheriff's race couldn't get stranger.
First came the $100,000 money bomb from Citizens for a Safe Cumberland County, a political action committee dumping mailers and radio ads alleging unsafe conditions and inmate sex at the Cumberland County Jail under Sheriff Kevin Joyce.
Then came the revelation through Florida limited liability company filings that the PAC is entirely bankrolled by Michael Liberty, a former Portland real estate developer who, as Randy Billings reported Monday, has contributed to a number of politicians, but mostly Republicans (Remember, the PAC is backing a Democrat, Michael Edes, a childhood friend of Liberty's).
And now there's this: The ads are produced by Vital Impact Campaigns LLC, which the Maine Secretary of State corporate filings show is a subsidiary of Strategic Advocacy, a political consulting firm run by Roy Lenardson, a 20-year veteran of Maine politics working almost exclusively for Republicans.
Lenardson lives in Florida, but Strategic Advocacy operates in Maine and the Sunshine State. The Florida operation is listed as a lobbying firm with the Florida legislature, but in Maine SA is better known as a political consulting shop for Republican legislative candidates. In 2010, Lenardson's firm received roughly $65,000 for producing mailers and ads to support the Maine Senate PAC run by former state Sen. Richard Rosen (now Gov. Paul LePage's acting finance chief). SA was also the leadconsulting firm used to beat back a slew of casino expansion proposals in 2011.
Just how much SA has been paid by political campaigns over the years is a bit of mystery, in part because the company uses limited liability companies to keep its work discreet. Lenardson generally keeps a low profile, but he popped onto the radar in Mid-March when a mysterious poll about Medicaid expansion poll circulated. The poll was conducted by Action Point Campaigns LLC, a firm that corporate filings showed as having the same address as SA's location in Ave Maria, Florida.
SA is also affiliated with the Foundation of Government Accountability, a conservative advocacy group led by Tarren Bragdon, a former head of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Both groups worked to defeat Medicaid expansion in Maine and Florida. Additionally, Lenardson and Bragdon both live in Ave Maria, Florida (Lenardson is an adjunct fellow for the MHPC, too).
Action Point is also the payee for political ads in Maine. In 2012, the LLC was paid by a variety of political action committees and Republican candidates to produce mailers during the legislative races. Lenardson told the Portland Press Herald in March that his firm was consulting for this year's legislative contests, too.
So what do all of these dizzying conservative connectionsand LLCs explain about Liberty's motives and the Citizens for a Safe Cumberland County PAC? Unclear. Lenardson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Liberty hasn't been talking since the Portland Press Herald broke the story on Friday.
However, Liberty and Lenardson do have history, perhaps incidental.
In 2002, Lenardson was the campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate Peter Cianchette. According to a Press Herald story from the campaign, the Cianchette campaign had been asked by the Ethics Commission to return over $9,000 in donations that exceeded the legal limit. One of those donations, $4,000, was from Michael Liberty.
Another interesting tidbit unearthed by colleague Scott Dolan on Tuesday: Edes, the candidate running against Joyce, was a registered Republican between 1994 and 2009, according to voter registration records with the Cumberland town clerk. Edes was unenrolled in 2010 and didn't register as a Democrat until July 22, 2013.
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Sidenote: About three years ago Strategic Advocacy formed a partnership with mega-lobbying outfit Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios (the two firms share space at 45 Memorial Circle in Augusta, right upstairs from the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices). Preti is known as a Democratic lobbying outfit, but its reputation doesn't tell the whole story of its access to the LePage administration. Ann Robinson, after all, was a close adviser to LePage, particularly in the early stages of the administration.
In March, Lenardson told the Press Herald that Severin Beliveau, the longtime lobbyist widely considered to influence much of the policy of the Baldacci administration, held more sway over LePage than he did.
"You would think that a Republican governor would want a Republican advising him," Lenardson joked. "But hey, I get it. I love Severin. He's a superstar."