Two of the state’s most prominent anti-wind activists and the non-profit organization they run are under investigation by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills for alleged conflicts of interest that may have benefitted them financially at the expense of the organization.
The investigation of Friends of Maine’s Mountains and the two board members was brought to light by the Sun Journal, which published a report about it on April 14.
Mills filed a request on March 20 with the Franklin County Superior Court asking for approval for the investigation. The approval was granted on March 28.
Mills’ request, called an “EX PARTE application for approval to conduct an investigation of a public charity,” alleges that Rand Stowell, founder and president of the board of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, and Chris O’Neil, the organization’s spokesman and a board member, removed other members from the board without their knowledge and that Stowell settled a legal case despite a board vote not to enter into the settlement with a wind power developer.
According to the attorney general’s application, Stowell had loaned Friends of Maine’s Mountains thousands of dollars over the preceding years. O’Neil was paid $3,000 per month for “political action and governmental affairs” work. Each man was thus a current or recent “significant creditor” of the organization and stood to benefit from any financial settlement that awarded money to the group.
“The actions of both Stowell and O’Neil raise concerns about potential illegal conflicts and unauthorized action purportedly on behalf of FMM,” wrote Mills.
“Neither Stowell nor O’Neil should have been deliberating or voting on any proposed action to accept a settlement.”
Stowell said Wednesday that “We are prepared to cooperate with the Attorney General’s office and give them what information they need in order to determine that Friends of Maine’s Mountains has acted appropriately and in compliance with all the laws.”
O’Neil and Stowell, who is an attorney, appear frequently at the Maine statehouse to testify and comment on legislation related to wind power. Friends of Maine’s Mountains’ website describes the organization as Maine’s “leading opponent of senseless industrial wind projects that destroy our state’s scenic assets.”
In response to the investigation, O’Neil said that Friends of Maine’s Mountains (FMM) “strictly complies to the laws for charitable activity, and that nobody involved in FMM has derived any personal gain from FMM activity.”