How illegal campaign donations deepened the downfall of a noted Portland developer

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Tonight’s First Friday Art Walk should be a busy one. Here’s the schedule.

What we’re talking about

Michael Liberty (BDN file)

Michael Liberty (BDN file)

Darren Fishell today digs into the story of Michael Liberty — a developer of the 91-unit Chandler’s Wharf condo project and two office towers at 100 Middle St. — who pleaded guilty this week to breaking campaign finance laws:

This week, a developer and entrepreneur once dubbed “Donald Trump with a Maine accent” had a less auspicious brush with presidential politics than the president-elect.

Gray native Liberty, 56, pleaded guilty to making $22,500 in illegal campaign contributions, which court documents indicate benefited Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. Prosecutors are seeking at least six months of jail time and penalties for Liberty, who faces sentencing April 11 in federal court in Portland.

The possibility of jail comes at an already difficult time for Liberty. He separately faces a charge that he lied to federal financial regulators, allegedly hiding money in a company, Xanadu Partners LLC, to avoid paying most of a $6 million penalty levied against him in an earlier fraud investigation. Liberty denies those charges and any misrepresentation of his finances.

A close reading of court documents sheds light on the role of a longtime adviser and business partner in Liberty’s latest legal troubles. It remains to be seen whether damage from his testimony is done.

Further investigation of Liberty’s holdings has turned up both dirt and the perception of dirt. But it’s not clear exactly why and how deeply investigators are digging into the finances of the young mogul, who turned controversial real estate success into a vast array of business ventures in and beyond Maine.

Read Darren’s full story here.

Meanwhile: BDN Maine blogger Mike Tipping writes on Liberty:

Searches of public records show that a similar pattern of political giving by individuals and companies linked to Liberty is also evident at the state level.

On two days in October, 2010, at least 23 Liberty family members, associates and related corporations all gave maximum contributions to the campaign of then-Republican gubernatorial candidate and now-governor Paul LePage. Eight of these individuals also gave contributions to Romney during the period investigated by the Justice Department.

In other news

A Portland brewery is more than doubling its size in East Bayside — Kathleen Pierce reports that Rising Tide Brewery Co. is moving into the Maine Craft Distilling space next door and taking over the now-shuttered Portland’s Greener Cleaner around the corner.

City councilors still trying to figure out how to regulate short-term rentals — The City Council’s housing committee has been discussing rules around AirBNB-like services since October. It still hasn’t decided on anything concrete.

The Press Herald’s Peter McGuire reports:

The council’s housing committee meeting Thursday was dominated by a discussion of whether capping the number of short-term rentals allowed per building or imposing progressively more expensive per-unit registration fees would limit the number of units in the city.

Housing advocates and city officials worry that the increase in short-term rentals makes the city’s rental housing crunch worse, although hosts say the impact of short-term rentals is overstated. Councilors have said they want to allow short-term rentals, but the practice needs some rules.

Meanwhile, in South Portland housing news — The Forecaster’s Alex Acquisto reports:

Despite a directive from some city councilors to include more protections for renters, the Affordable Housing Committee’s revised findings don’t include those measures.

Committee Chairman Isaak Misiuk on Thursday said the “baseline reason” he and other committee members aren’t recommending that the city adopt rent stabilization measures is because “we didn’t want to be the guinea pig to any lawsuits.”

The Big Idea

‘The post-truth world of the Trump administration is scarier than you think’ — The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes:

On live radio Wednesday morning, Scottie Nell Hughes sounded breezy as she drove a stake into the heart of knowable reality:

“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she declared on “The Diane Rehm Show.” …

Hughes, a frequent surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump and a paid commentator for CNN during the campaign, kept on defending that assertion at length, though not with much clarity of expression. Rehm had pressed her about Trump’s recent evidence-free assertion on Twitter that he, not Hillary Clinton, would have won the popular vote if millions of immigrants had not voted illegally. …

These surrogates’ disdain for facts should not be surprising, given Trump’s own casual relationship with verifiable truth.

It’s time to dust off your old copy of “1984” by George Orwell and recall this passage: “The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.”

And be vigilant.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.