Sorry Leslie, You Don't Get To Get Away With This

The story I broke yesterday about Les Otten’s continued and unabashed plagiarism wasn’t the end of the story, it was the beginning of the story.

Let’s put aside for the moment that this is just another example in a pattern of disturbing behavior on the part of candidate Otten.  Let’s put aside that he stole the Obama logo, and outright COPIED the Obama website.  Then of course, there was the time he copied a corporate logo when he was still in the business world.  Let’s put all of those previous examples of exactly this same behavior of passing off other’s work as your own and deal with t his specific issue.

After getting savaged for once again ripping off somebody elses work, the Otten campaign put out yet another laughable response (they have a tendency of putting out embarrassingly bad responses to controversy) to the Augusta Insider:

Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2010 21:55:13 -0400
Subject: Correction to Otten statement on education to Augusta Insider
From: Edith Smith

Dear Augusta Insider:

In one of our responses to the Augusta Insider’s recent questions regarding education, specifically the Race To The Top program, part of the answer came from public testimony from the Maine Heritage Policy Center on LD 1801. We should have attributed this quote directly to Steve Bowen of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

The correct citation should be listed as coming from testimony regarding L.D.’s 1799, 1800 and 1801, The Maine Heritage Policy Center http://www.mainepolicy.org/resources/media/237_1507417858.pdf

Les and members of the Otten campaign staff previously met with the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Steve Bowen, who pointed us toward this public testimony. We have spoken to the Maine Heritage Policy Center executive director Tarren Bragdon who appreciates the fact that we have gone back and attributed that quote to their organization. We apologize for the inadvertent oversight as the final draft of our response was being prepared. This is an error of omission not an error of commission.

We will continue to seek out the best minds in the state such as the Maine Heritage Policy Center on the issues that face us.

Thank you very much.


Edie
Edith A. Smith
Campaign Manager
Les Otten for Governor
Jobs for Maine Campaign

She actually claimed that somehow between initial drafts and final drafts some kind of disclosure was accidentally removed in the hasty rush to get this answer to Augusta Insider.  She is actually arguing that.

Edie, please don’t insult our intelligence.  Tell me, just how many “drafts” of 100% plagiarized content did you need to go through before you settled on 100% plagiarized content? What were you editing?  It certainly wasn’t Bowen’s statement, since the only difference is bullet points and the removal of a couple phrases that make it obvious that this was plagiarized testimony.

You had nothing to edit.  So you had no drafts.  And if you did, the idea that you may have once had a disclosure on there but accidentally deleted it before sending it out is utterly laughable.  Remember, I work on campaigns, I know how this stuff is done – and this is about the most transparent garbage I have ever seen in my life.

But worse, Smith claimed in this release that they had met previously with Maine Heritage, and heavily implied that somehow Otten approached them about this answer and they pointed him to this testimony.  In speaking with Stephen Bowen, I know this to be a fabrication.  Luckily for me, Bowen himself decided to weigh in on this issue this morning.  In his take on this issue, he directly rebuts the idea that Otten asked for permission, and hits the candidate for apologizing for a faux accident, rather than apologizing for stealing his work.  Note to Les Otten’s team, I am now CITING Bowen as the SOURCE for the following statement at this location:

In my March 4th testimony before the legislature’s Education Committee, I laid out why I thought the state should adopt bold reform measures in response to the federal Race to the Top initiative. We were not doing enough, I said, to compete with states like Michigan and Massachusetts. We needed to do far more than pass an “innovative schools” bill and agree to adopt common standards. We needed to be bold and innovative and really take some big steps forward on education policy.

One of the state’s gubernatorial candidates seems to agree.

In fact, as Matt Gagnon of pinetreepolitics.com, among others, has noted, the Les Otten campaign’s response to an Augusta Insider question about Race to the Top bears an awfully strong resemblance to my earlier testimony.

As Gagnon observed, The start of the Otten response reads: “Under the Race to the Top program, $4.3 billion is being made available to states to help them fund promising education reforms. The catch is that this is a competitive grant program.  States across the nation have responded by passing comprehensive reform legislation that moves their states forward in a dramatic fashion.”

The second paragraph of my testimony, by contrast, reads: “Under the Race to the Top program, $4.3 billion is being made available to states to help them fund promising education reforms.  The catch is that this is a competitive grant program, and states across the nation have responded by passing comprehensive reform legislation that moves their states forward in a dramatic fashion.”

Hmmm….

The Otten piece goes on to cite my findings with regard to Michigan and Massachusetts. On Massachusetts, for instance, I told legislators that “I also have with me the Race to the Top legislation passed by our neighbors in Massachusetts. This 41-page bill expands the number of charter schools in Massachusetts, and gives the state broad powers to intervene in chronically failing schools, including empowering district superintendents to unilaterally amend elements of the collective bargaining agreements in such schools in order to make the staffing changes needed to turn them around.”

Otten’s piece reads:

“MASSACHUSETTS:
•    Expanded the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.
•    Gave the state broad powers to intervene in chronically failing schools, including empowering district superintendents to unilaterally amend elements of the collective bargaining agreements in such schools in order to make the staffing changes needed to turn them around.”

The Otten campaign, in fact, spent quite a bit of time turning my carefully crafted paragraphs into their bulleted lists:

I wrote: “What is Maine doing to create “alternate routes to teacher certification” as suggested in the Race to the Top application?  Nothing.  What are we doing to see to it that “highly effective teachers and principals” are given “opportunities for additional compensation”?  Nothing.  What are we doing to “ensure the equitable distribution of effective teachers”?  Nothing.  What are we doing to “improve the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs”? Nothing.”

Otten’s version reads:
Maine is doing nothing to create alternate routes to teacher certification.
Maine is doing nothing to see to it that highly effective teachers and principals are given opportunities for additional compensation.
Maine is doing nothing to improve the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs.”
(Note that the bit about “equitable distribution of effective teachers” was left our of Otten’s version.)

Where I wrote this: “The Race to the Top grant, though, gives this committee the opportunity to makes its mark on Maine’s schools.  You have the opportunity to rework our data and information systems.  You have the opportunity to re-imagine how we attract, train, certify, support and compensate our teachers and school administrators.  You have the opportunity to take aggressive actions to intervene in chronically underperforming schools, to give our school and community leaders the flexibility they need to make their schools better, and to provide students and families with more educational options, including charter schools.”

The Otten campaign wrote:

“The Race to the Top grant gives Maine the opportunity to:

•    Rework our data and information systems.
•    Re-imagine how we attract, train, certify, support and compensate our teachers and school administrators.
•    Take aggressive actions to intervene in chronically underperforming schools.
•    Give our school and community leaders the flexibility they need to make their schools better.
•    To provide students and families with more educational options, including charter schools.”

Folks, I taught middle and high school for ten years before joining MHPC, and I have seen my fair share of plagiarism, but this takes the cake. Nowhere in Otten’s piece am I cited as the author, and nowhere is it even suggested that the text was lifted from some other source. Certain pieces of my text were used, others were not. My references to the committee were carefully extracted from the text, and my paragraphs were carefully rewritten as lists. Nowhere is there a citation; nowhere is there even a quotation mark to suggest the use of someone else’s words.

And it is all so blatant, that’s the amazing thing. I don’t think any of the students I had, who were 14 years old, by the way,  would ever have dared to hand in something so patently fraudulent.

But how has the Otten campaign responded to the mini-furor this has created? Did they take a stand for integrity and the importance of intellectual property by identifying and firing the author of Otten’s piece?

No, they sent out the following statement instead:

In one of our responses to the Augusta Insider’s recent questions regarding education, specifically the Race To The Top program, part of the answer came from public testimony from the Maine Heritage Policy Center on LD 1801. We should have attributed this quote directly to Steve Bowen of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

The correct citation should be listed as coming from testimony regarding L.D.’s 1799, 1800 and 1801, The Maine Heritage Policy Center http://www.mainepolicy.org/resources/media/237_1507417858.pdf

Les and members of the Otten campaign staff previously met with the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Steve Bowen, who pointed us toward this public testimony. We have spoken to the Maine Heritage Policy Center executive director Tarren Bragdon who appreciates the fact that we have gone back and attributed that quote to their organization. We apologize for the inadvertent oversight as the final draft of our response was being prepared. This is an error of omission not an error of commission.

We will continue to seek out the best minds in the state such as the Maine Heritage Policy Center on the issues that face us.

One or two things for the record in response:

First of all, “part of an answer?” “that quote?” Really? Is there any part of Otten’s piece that came from anyone other than me?

Second, the idea that they intended to cite my work but neglected, mistakenly, to actually do it is laughable. When you as an author intend to cite the work of another, you quote the cited work exactly as it appears. You don’t deconstruct paragraphs and rework them into bullet lists, and you don’t rewrite sentences your own way, then slap quotes around them. In fact, if you intend to quote another’s work, you actually use quotation marks.

Had the Otten piece simply been comprised of big sections of unedited text from my work, they could plausibly argue that they cut and pasted it into a new document with the intent of later adding quotation marks and citations. But what they did was rewrite and reorganize whole sections of it. You don’t accidentally turn a paragraph into a bullet list, take out the bullets with which you disagree, then accidentally forget to cite the author of the original paragraph from which the bullet list was crafted.

Are they joking with this?

Third, a couple of us from MHPC did indeed meet with the Otten campaign in Bethel on March 23rd. We have met with most of the gubernatorial candidates at one time or another, and not just the Republicans. It is also likely that we did give them some of our reports, and we may very well have given them a copy of the legislative testimony from which they borrowed so brazenly. We have provided materials to a number of gubernatorial candidates, and are more than happy to provide them – any of them – with any information or materials that we might have. We are a research and educational organization and not a day goes by that we don’t send someone – a taxpayer, a college student, a legislative candidate, a school board member – a report or a paper that we’ve authored. This is what we do for a living.

What we did not do was give the Otten campaign some kind of green light to steal our work and pass it off as their own, which is what is suggested in the campaign’s response. We spend a lot of time and money “pointing” people toward our work, and we don’t do it so that they can then rewrite it and pass it off as their own thinking.

This is no small matter for us. Our donors and supporters trust that the work we do is intended to advance our mission of developing and promoting limited-government, free-market public policy solutions that benefit the people of Maine. We do not intend for our work to be used in a way that implies we endorse a specific political candidate, nor do we expect candidates to slyly suggest in their statements that we are somehow working behind the scenes to advance their campaigns. That appears to me to be what the Otten campaign is implying and it is both offensive to me and to the organization and potentially damaging to our credibility.

The Otten campaign has taken steps to apologize to me and to MHPC, but not for stealing our work.In their mind, it seems, this was simply an unfortunate accident, not a blatant attempt to pass off my work as the work of Les Otten.

I, for one, am not buying it.

Sorry Edie, nobody is buying your spin on this.

You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  When you have done it in the past so m any times, you can’t fool us again.  We may have bought your excuses and arguments before, but not anymore.  This is now a pattern of theft of intellectual property, and other people’s hard work.

Oh, but we aren’t done, ladies and gentlemen.  As bad as this all is – and as much as it continues to paint Les Otten as a serial plagiarist, I have uncovered more.

It turns out he has been plagiarizing more content than this.  His website is full of plagiarized material.

The “Otten Jobs Plan” (makes it kind of sound like it was his own material, huh?) includes the following statement on healthcare (I am including it as a screenshot to show that they have zero citations, quotes or other attribution related text around it, and I do not trust them to not change their material on me):

And look – another Maine Heritage article (this time it was from a Wall Street Journal piece they authored):

The Maine Heritage Policy Center, which has tracked the plan closely, points out that largely because of these insurance rules, a healthy male in Maine who is 30 and single pays a monthly premium of $762 in the individual market; next door in New Hampshire he pays $222 a month. The Granite State doesn’t have community rating and guaranteed issue.

Come on, Les.  Adding “one big reason” and changing “The Grantite State” to “New Hampshire” doesn’t make it yours.

Now, the “plan” does include the following footnote at the very bottom of the piece:

However, the number 1 that the footnote reference is not placed next to that statement in Otten’s plan. Indeed, the footnote points to another section of the plan that talks about Charter Schools.

So, they are using the article in the footnote they ripped text from as a citation for another section of the plan.  You can’t make this stuff up.

They do not own up in either the plan’s text, nor the footnotes, that that section is wholly taken from Maine Heritage’s Wall Street Journal article.

Oh, and speaking of that section of his plan, I suppose you can guess, but it is ripped too.  Guess who it is ripped from?  Maine Heritage:

Maine is one of only 11 states without charter schools, but the so-calledinnovative schools” that LD 1801 proposes to create barely meet the criteria for “autonomous innovative public schools” as defined by the Race to the Top application.

Once again, some minor lipstick applied here and there, but again, ripped text from Heritage.  These are just two examples, but there is more throughout his entire “plan”.

There is nothing in or around any of these statements that identifies them as virtually word for word the same work as Bowen, and Maine Heritage.

As any Freshman in college knows, if you are going to use entire sections of somebody else’s work, you need to provide quotes around the text itself, and identify who you are quoting.  In this instance, all that would have needed to be said would be, “Recently the Maine Heritage Policy Center penned an oped in the Wall Street Journal which made this case.  They said…” followed by the quote.

This is yet another example of the campaign’s utter disregard for other people’s work.  They don’t even have the decency to take the text and rework the sentences at least, so that their plagiarism is being hidden.

I have almost no doubt that these are not the only examples of this campaign plagiarizing work.  The more time goes by, the more examples like this we find.  More material Otten passes off as his own, while being very much the opposite.

Ask yourself if you are comfortable with a Governor of Maine who engages in this type of lazy, unethical, and disrespectful behavior.  Is he so bereft of ideas that he has to rely on ripped material?  If he is so willing to rip off logos, website designs and indeed public testimony and high profile articles to national papers, what does that say about what he would do once in office?

I’m not done with this.  But for now, I think my point is made.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political operative. He serves as the Director of Digital Strategy for the Republican Governors Association, and has previously worked for Senator Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.