Jason Savage, the Executive Director of Maine's Republican Party, was already under fire for his connections to an anonymous political attack website known as the Maine Examiner. Savage is now admitting that he didn't file income tax returns for two years.
The revelations are important since the Maine Examiner is known for taking swipes at Democrats.
Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz broke this story. He joined Maine Things Considered Host Nora Flaherty to discuss it.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Nora Flaherty: I think a lot of people who follow politics know Jason Savage. But can you tell us a little about him for those of us who don’t know him?
Bill Nemitz: Sure, Jason is the executive director of the Maine Republican Party. He's been in that position since 2013. Prior to that I believe for two years he ran an organization called People Before Politics, which was the offshoot of Governor Le Page, his transition team in 2010, and prior to that he worked under Governor LePage when Governor page was the general manager at Martin's surplus and storage. Jason worked for a number of years under him. So he's been very closely connected first with LePage and then with the Republican Party for quite some time.
NF: And apparently Mr. Savage has had some problems paying his taxes. Tell us what you found out and how.
BN: Well we had a lot of coverage last week about this website, the Maine Examiner, which is now the subject of a complaint before the Ethics Commission in Augusta over lack of identity of its author, is funding things that need to be disclosed when politics and elections are in play. I wrote about that last Sunday, and on Monday I got an email from a reader who had been noodling around the internet content. He has expertise in matters of registries of deeds and that kind of thing. He saw that Mr. Savage lives in Enfield and just did a quick check of the Penobscot County register of deeds, at which point he came across a number of liens that had been filed against Jason over the years. But the two that are of the most interest are for failure to file a state income tax returns in 2013 and 2014.
NF: It’s been reported that Savage has some connection to the Maine Examiner. That’s the anonymous website that’s printed some attack pieces against Democratic candidates and officeholders, as we were just talking about. The Maine Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission alleging that the Republican Party may have broken campaign finance laws by not disclosing the funding. But last week the Republican Party denied involvement with the site. Do you think they're going to argue that Savage was acting alone with that? And did they say anything to you about that?
BN: Well it hasn't been established that he is the site. What has been established is that if you look at the so called metadata behind the website, you will find his name popping up in various threads. So there's clearly been some involvement there. The Republican Party statement last week stopped short of addressing this particular issue. So they have been largely silent on Jason so far, and certainly that's a question that's going to come up. And I think on February 22nd when this is first brought before the Ethics Commission, he certainly has some explaining to do.
NF: And to be clear an example of metadata would be something like you know if you take a picture and it was taken with your camera, the metadata would show that
BN:or error logs on the site. And also there is a coincidence that the data site was created on another site, through which you do these things, was also the one, and I believe the last date that Jason Savage visited that site.
NF: You wrote that you received a tip about Mr. Savage’s tax problems, and that the person said that he was disgusted by the Examiner’s tactics.Do you believe that is why he came to you, or that there's something else going on?
BN: I pressed him [the tipster] quite a bit on you know. “Are you are you a Democrat?” No he isn't. “Do you have any involvement with any of the groups involved in this?” No he didn't. My conclusion is that this is a reader who was following this story very closely, and because he is “disgusted,” as he put it, by the Maine Examiner, and because he does have quite an independent, in terms of his voter registration, has a liberal bent. He did say that that was also a motivating factor as to any other involvement directly in this whole saga. I saw no evidence of that.
NF: For those who follow politics closely, as many of our listeners do, this is a pretty big story. This is an interesting story for people in the general public. As you wrote this piece, why did you think those people would be interested would care why is this important?
BN: Well I think one of the things that we've heard quite a bit from the Maine Republican Party over the past number of years, particularly since Governor Page took office, is this kind of constant demand for accountability. And it sunk, in some cases, demonization of people who are receiving any variety of public benefits, and this kind of burden of proof that's thrust upon them that they have to prove that they're not milking the system and it's been a fairly steady mantra. It's been one that Jason Savage himself has been at the center of. And I think what his case tells us is that you never know who's struggling. You never know who's having a hard time getting by. And if if nothing else the situation in which he finds himself right now might be instructional to people who are very quick to jump to judgment of those who are fairing less well than they are.
NF: And going from that, Jason Savage did not agree to speak to us for this, but in a statement he said his tax situation is “A piece of fallout from very difficult issues that arose in my private life over a period of several years. I have been working hard to resolve this matter for many months and expect to have it taken care of in the coming weeks.”