Lance won…this round

Congratulations to Lance Dutson, who is free from the legal black cloud imposed on him by Warren Kremer Paino Advertising. The agency dropped their lawsuit Friday, though they made no public comment on the matter. Cowards, to the end.

In his latest post on the now seven-month-long Pay-Per-Gate saga, Lance thanked his own legal council, along with Media Bloggers Association and our (disclosure: I am a board member) legal and public relations support. He also mentioned the work of Maine state rep Stephen Bowen, who just yesterday publicized a letter he wrote to Maine’s governor’s office asking that Warren Kremer Paino advertising’s state contract be investigated.

More on this soon…

Maine Rep calls for Office of Tourism investigation

In his ongoing ethical and now legal battle with inept state government officials and contractors, Lance Dutson has finally received meaningful public help from a State of Maine government official, some five months after his original reporting.

Today, Maine Representative Stephen Bowen (R – Rockport) announced he has asked Maine’s economic commissioner to suspend the contract of Warren Kremer Paino pending the resolution of the ad agencies lawsuit against Lance.

If you’re just joining this story, catch up here on Lance’s site.

Here’s Representative Bowen’s letter to the state economic commissioner, which does a nice job of summarizing this case. Here’s the biggest takeaway from his letter for me, a fellow resident and taxpayer in Maine:

Working for the state means being answerable to the people,” said Rep. Bowen, who has been involved in the ongoing feud between Dutson and the state’s tourism officials since early this year. At the time, Dutson’s online criticisms of the tourism program brought on retaliatory emails to his business clients from one the state’s other tourism contractors, Nancy Marshall Communications. “Lance has the right to criticize state officials and contractors, and what has happened to him is outrageous and totally unacceptable,” said Rep. Bowen.

This is a commendable action by Representative Bowen, Lance’s state rep, and the only person on Maine’s payroll who has lifted as much as finger in Lance’s advocacy since the onset of this now national scandal.

As I’ve stated previously, when the dust settles here the real story will not be the clueless old-world ad agency that bungled themselves into a corner- those are a dime a dozen nowadays. Rather, it will be the abysmally poor behavior of the folks paid by and entrusted with our tax dollars. May they lose their jobs and be forced to find jobs in and meet the demands of the private sector, where intelligence, adaptation, and accountability all mean something.

MBA announces support for Lance Dutson

As I reported earlier, the Media Bloggers Association has stepped up to assisnt in the defense of Maine blogger Lance Dutson against the multi-million dollar federal lawsuit he has been served with by Warren Kremer Paino, the ad agency of record for the State of Maine Office of Tourism.

The MBA (disclosure: I am a board member) is working to publicize Lance’s case in an effort to shine a light on his accusers and their actions. Furthermore, the MBA’s legal council, Ronald Coleman, is participating in Lance’s defense of this action.

From the MBA’s announcement:

“This case is nothing more than an attempt by a deep-pocketed litigant to bully a blogger for criticizing state officials and state contractors””, said MBA President Robert Cox. “We have successfully defended MBA members in nine previous cases and I don¹t expect the outcome here to be be any different.”

Dutson went public this morning with news of the lawsuit and provided key links here including his account of the events leading up to the lawsuit and the complaint served on Dutson by the local sheriff at his home in Maine. Dutson has vowed to fight.

“The idea that criticism of the state government can be defamatory is absurd”, said Dutson, “This attempt to bludgeon critics of the state government is not going to work.”

Through it’s legal defense initiative, the MBA provides member bloggers with “first line” legal defense, pro bono advice on how best to respond to legal threats related to the member’s blog.

“Bloggers don’t usually have an in-house legal department or high priced outside First Amendment counsel, but they’re at least as likely to need one as any MSM outlet. That’s where we come in,” said MBA General Counsel, Ronald Coleman of the Coleman Law Firm.

Stay tuned to Lance’s MaineWebReport and the Media Bloggers Association website for more news.

Maine blogger sued by Maine Office of Tourism subcontractor

Lance Dutson, the blogger whose ‘Pay-per-gate‘ investigation has uncovered several instances of incompetence by the Maine Office of Tourism and its subcontractors, today announced he has been sued for over a million dollars by Warren Kremer Paino, the Office of Tourism’s advertising agency of record.

This is a devious, frivolous lawsuit, designed to intimidate Dutson into silence, and it should not- and will not- stand. Dutston has decided to stand and fight, and bloggers everywhere should support him by linking to him and publicizing this idiotic abuse of our legal system by the Warren Kremer Paino advertising agency.

Dutson is supported in his fight by an excellent legal team, including the support of Ron Coleman, council for Media Bloggers Association (disclosure: I am on the Board of Directors for the MBA). Coleman and the MBA are a perfect 8-0 in defending lawsuits against bloggers, and I have faith that Dutson’s case will prove to be another victory for bloggers’ rights.

One more thing: Nobody should forget that while the lawsuit has been filed by the Warren Kremer Paino advertising agency, they are involved in this mess as the advertising agency of record for the Maine state Office of Tourism. As a citizen of the state, I fully expect that the Office of Tourism would have something to say in this matter. So, how are they going to respond? Will they come down in favor of the ad agency that is suing one of their citizens for millions of dollars? Or will they stand up for somebody they are supposed to be working on behalf of?

Stay tuned…

Maine blogger threatened with lawsuit for ‘Pay-per-Gate’ story

Every blogger out there should understand that when one of us is threatened with a lawsuit, we’re all threatened. That’s not a cutesy cliche- it’s a serious point to keep in mind whenever we begin to forget that there are many members of the old guard- institutions such as government agencies and media outlets- with enough resources and fear to make life very difficult for individual bloggers or journalists.

I’m raising all this because I’m sorry to report that Lance Dutson, the blogger who is following an ongoing saga of incompetence and alleged harrasement by the Maine State Office of Tourism and some of its contractors (dubbed ‘Pay-per-Gate’), announced today that he’s been threatened with a lawsuit by Warren Kremer Paino, the advertising firm retained by the state’s Tourism Office.

He was served with the warning via letter on Saturday, mentioning it on his blog Sunday. Today, he upped the ante, publishing the letter on his blog.

The threat of a lawsuit is, allegedly, not the first tactic employed by the subjects of Lance’s ongoing reporting. He has previously written on his blog about attempts by various parties to contact his clients (he’s a web developer by trade) and even his wife’s employers in apparent attempts to disrupt his business.

If those accuastions of harrasment prove true- and let’s be clear, as they’re being described, they’re bordering on illegal, particularly for agents of a state government- then they make the appearance of a threatening letter from a law firm appear all the more ominious- not to mention devious.

Although he’s receiving some initial support from the Committee to Protect Bloggers, he deserves as much of our support as possible as he faces off against a corporation that appears ready to sue in order to silence him.

I strongly encourage any blogger reading this to promote this story in any way possible- link to it, share it, pass it on- so that in rallying around Lance, we make it that much harder for another independent publisher, blogger or otherwise, to be threatened not only with his blog, but with his livelihood.

Maine wastes taxpayer money on inept web campaigns

Let’s see if that title earns some much-warranted attention to this story. See, something stinks here in my home state of Maine, and at least this time around it’s not the State’s abysmal DirigoChoice health are program.

Instead, I’m talking about some highly irregular, irresponsible, and completely unprofessional behavior on display by our state’s Office of Tourism. The story is getting long, but it’s quite familiar, as it involves potentially huge sums of taxpayer money wasted on inept programs by seemingly clueless consultants and buearocrats.

Pay-per-gate, as it’s being called, is an ongoing investigation by Lance Dutson of Maine Web Report, a fellow Maine-based blogger and web developer.

Back in October of last year, Dutson discovered that the Maine Office of Tourism was buying Google AdWords targeted to specific Maine businesses. As he noted at the time, that act itself is just plain wrong, for the reasons he lists, including the facts that the State is not only bidding against the businesses it is meant to promote, but further that it should be focusing on general Google-juice and not re-directing traffic better suited for other sites to its own web presence.

The plot thickened, as its apt to do, when Dutson then noted that the Office of Tourism is expressly forbidden from spending its budget within the State of Maine That fact is important because last month, Duston reported that the Office of Tourism was violating this rule by not filtering Maine out of its expensive AdWords campaigns.

(UPDATE: Lance wrote to tell me this point is not correct. While the Office of Tourism is not prohibited by law from spending within Maine, they would certainly appear to be wasting money doing so. Maine business spend, in aggregate, millions of dollars marketing themselves to Maine residents. An Office of Tourism, meanwhile, should exist to represent them outside of the state.)

Here is where a good PR strategy becomes extremely important. After some of the campaigns were pulled, then all of them, Lance waited while the PR firm and the State both failed to respond to his inquires. I have an inquiry myself: have any of these people ever heard of blogs?

After a series of go-rounds between the consulting firm, the state, and Dutson, in which the ads were pulled first within the state and then overall, the director of the Office of Tourism Dann Lewis again demonstrated that the Office has no business what-so-ever doing business on the web. Here’s an excerpt of Lewis’ letter to Dutson, according to the Maine Web Report:

I will devote sufficient time to this over the next several days in order to respond to you fully and factually by Monday afternoon, March 6. I will be in Washington on business for the next three days, hence the time frame for my full response, which I hope you will share with the readers of your site.

In the meantime, I would ask you to refrain from making any further comments on this matter.

Yep, you know what this last statement reeks of: It’s called “Do you know who I am?!” disease, and it appears to be prevalent among even the most mid-level of State governmental agencies.

Worse, Lewis’ promise to present the Office of Tourism’s side of the story hasn’t even come true: it’s now 11pm on March 6th and Maine Web Report has not posted any reply from the agency or Mr. Lewis.

Since Lewis’ request for Dutson to “keep quiet,” the blogger has done anything but. In the past week alone, he’s discovered perhaps the most sickening and relevant facts yet. According to a 2004 newspaper article, the Office of Tourism was spending up to $7,000 per month on Internet advertising. Keep in mind, that’s $7k per month- or $78,000 per year- to out-bid Maine businesses at their own game. And as Dutston notes, in 2006 it’s likely that the Office of Tourism’s budget is at least that, if not much higher.
All in all, this is a sordid, embarrassing affair that is quickly rising to the level of scandal thanks in part to the state’s bungling response to Duston’s many legitimate inquiries. As a web developer, I’m appalled at the level of incompetence on display here. As a taxpayer, I am on the verge of outrage.