LePage delays on refund for fundamentally dishonest report

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The rampant plagiarism in the Alexander Report shouldn’t be a complete surprise to Governor Paul LePage. After all, Gary Alexander was paid to cut corners.

The conservative consultant was given his $925,000 no-bid contract by LePage precisely because he was willing to operate outside the bounds of normal academic and public policy research. LePage and his allies needed a document that would make an argument counter to the many other studies of federally-funded Medicaid expansion, all of which showed that the state would save significantly while creating jobs and providing health care coverage for tens of thousands of Mainers struggling to get by on poverty wages. They also wanted a similarly counter-factual assessment of Maine’s public assistance programs.

They knew they could count on Alexander because of his long history of stretching the truth in favor of his conservative agenda and his close ties to conservative groups like ALEC and other Koch-funded organizations.

The fact that they were paying for ideology rather than solid research is likely why LePage and his administration ignored the initial technical problems with the report – ridiculous poverty estimates, a $575 million error in basic multiplication and even the first instance of plagiarism revealed in a Bangor Daily News editorial. (The media was simply “politicizing punctuation,” claimed DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.) When you’ve commissioned a report precisely for its shoddy conclusions, its to be expected that its methods will be similarly flawed.

Apparently the further plagiarism found by Dalhousie University Professor Mike Smit and cataloged in my column last week was finally too much dirt to try to sweep under the rug. LePage has now taken initial steps to stop further payments on the contract and has said he may ask for the $500,000 already paid to Alexander to be returned. First, though, he says he wants to investigate the report and determine for himself if the allegations are true. He even called Smit personally for a recommendation for plagiarism-checking software.

I have a recommendation for him: Google. While anti-plagiarism software did find some of the lifted portions of Alexander’s work, many of the instances of unattributed copying were detected by running simple searches on sentences in the document. I’m not sure why it has now taken a week for LePage to have someone punch a few phrases into a search engine.

In fact, let me do the work for him. Below are several examples of parts of Alexander’s work that a quick Google search shows were taken verbatim from other, uncredited sources.

Here’s one of several passages that were taken from “Strategies for Improving Enrollment and Maximizing Cost Savings in Maine’s Private Health Insurance Premium Program (PHIP)” a 2008 report written by Katie Rosingana and Kimberley Fox at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service:

Muskie_O1Here’s the same language, with no citation, on page 41 of the first Alexander report:

Muskie_P1Here’s a passage from “Childless Adult Coverage in Maine” a 2004 report by Tanya Alteras and Sharon Silow-Carroll of the Economic and Social Research Institute:Kaiser_o
The same language, uncredited, on page 47 of the Alexander Report:

Kaiser_pHere’s a passage from “Assisting TANF Recipients Living with Disabilities to Obtain and Maintain Employment,” a 2008 report by Jacqueline Kauff of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.:

Mathematica_OHere’s the same language on page 116 of the second part of the Alexander report:

Mathematic_PHere’s the beginning of a list of state updates from a 2013 article by Christine Vestal of Pew’s Stateline news wire.

Pew_OHere’s the same content on page 29 of the Medicaid Alexander report. Most of the rest of the article was reprinted nearly verbatim over the next four pages of the report without citing the news wire.

Pew_PThese examples are the tip of the iceberg. Smit’s relatively quick examination revealed nearly a dozen instances of plagiarism, including many from other Maine government reports and several examples of self plagiarism from other materials written by Alexander.

The intellectual dishonesty in Alexander’s work is systemic but it isn’t surprising. Perhaps the lack of action from LePage over the last week is due to the fact that he’s loathe to make the final admission inherent in a complete rejection of the report: that he took money that should have gone to help struggling families and hungry children and spent it on a document designed from the beginning to be dishonest.

There’s no reason why LePage should be delaying any further. As Democratic leaders have been saying for months and even some of the governor’s Republican allies now admit, it’s time for Maine to get our money back.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald