Maine Candidate Continues to Copy
To any reasonable person, there's no doubt that Republican Les Otten appropriated the design of President Obama's campaign logo and website for his gubernatorial campaign.
Conservative and liberal blogs alike agree that there's no other possible explanation for the obvious and overwhelming similarities other than plagiarism. Some of the angriest commenters on the issue have been professional website designers, who have explained in great detail how the site was copied. James Dempsey at the Graphic Mac blog, for instance, performed one such evaluation and labeled Otten a “bold-faced thief.”
In the days after Otten announced the formation of his exploratory committee, controversy over this plagiarism spread quickly around the internet. The issue didn't make it into the traditional media, however, until the Maine Democratic Party sent out a press release attacking Otten for the theft.
Unfortunately, instead of investigating the issue, talking with graphic designers and intellectual property experts and finding out if Otten was at fault, most Maine media sources just stated the accusation from the Democrats and then printed the Otten campaign's own assertions that they “did not copy from anyone’s website” and that they built their site “from scratch.”
This kind of back-and-forth reporting can make both sides of the issue appear to be equally valid, even when one side has a weaker case. This time, it also meant a lot more attention for Otten's fledgling campaign and a bunch of traffic for his website. The conflict also gave him the ability to claim he was being persecuted by “highly partisan elements of the Maine Democratic Party” who he said were running a “negative campaign” against him.
I might have more sympathy for Otten's protestations if I hadn't spoken on background to someone close to the campaign before the issue blew up. They told me that the campaign had “planned from the get go” to create a website that “looked familiar.”
When I mentioned this conversation to Otten, he disputed the statement and maintained that the site was 100% original. He also insisted that the controversy was a manufactured, partisan attack.
“If I wasn't a Republican, this wouldn't be an issue,” said Otten.
While the similarities in the sites and the logos speak for themselves, I might have believed that Otten himself wasn't aware of his campaign's plagiarism, if it weren't for the fact that he has a documented history of using other people's design work for his own purposes.
Take a look at the website for Les Otten's personal real estate development project, The Colony at Sunday River (www.thecolonyatsundayriver.com). Now take a look at the website for The Colony at White Pine Canyon in Utah (www.thecolonywpc.com). The name, logo and typeface are all identical.
I asked Tom Gauld, the media contact for The Colony at White Pine Canyon, if there was an affiliation between the two sites. I didn't mention Otten or the other logo controversy. Here's his reply:
“The Colony at White Pine Canyon has NO affiliation with The Colony at Sunday River in Maine.
The Colony at White Pine Canyon and its logo were launched in 1997.
I noticed on the link you sent me that the CEO of the Sunday River company is Mr. Les Otten. Mr. Otten is intimately aware of our project through his previous role as CEO of American Skiing Company which leased our land as part of The Canyons ski resort. It appears Mr. Otten was sufficiently impressed by our branding materials that he was inspired to make an almost indentical copy for his Sunday River development. While The Colony name is relatively generic, we are startled that someone would make such a blatant replication of our logo, but perhaps we should be flattered.”
When I asked Otten about the identical logos, he admitted that he had taken the White Pine Canyon design.
“It's a good looking logo that I was associated with in a project in Utah and so I used it in project Maine,” said Otten. “I've never heard that it's a problem for anyone.”
Otten also implied that an ongoing lawsuit involving the Utah development and other legal proceedings might give someone associated with the project a reason to accuse Otten of misappropriating their intellectual property.
“There's an awful lot of water under a bridge that has other ramifications with that project and other related litigations. There have been some arrests and convictions that have to do with some rather unpleasant activities of the principals of that group,” said Otten.
I initiated contact with the management of the White Pine Canyon development after a reader at Maine Politics used the tipline to let me know about similarities between the two sites.
In the end, Otten maintains that this dispute, like the controversy over his campaign website, is just a minor distraction from the real issues that he hopes to address in the coming campaign.
“I would take it as a compliment if I've done something and someone else uses it in business, for their own benefit in a non-competitive way,” said Otten. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
While accusations of plagiarism and dishonesty can be hard for a politician to recover from, Otten says he'll be working hard in the next few weeks and months to do just that. As the campaign continues, Otten says he plans to focus on offering solutions for state government based on a realistic understanding of Maine's finances and business environment and with a hopeful eye towards the future.
Otten says the first step is doing a comprehensive review of state revenue and spending, something he says is a major focus of his exploratory committee. Otten says he won't run on a concrete platform of specific programs like Peter Mills did in the last gubernatorial contest with his 12-point plan, but that he will be offering voters a “very clear outline” of how he plans to increase revenues and cut costs.
Otten says his business experiences have both prepared him for a job as the state's chief executive and given him knowledge of areas of the state's economy that will be important for future growth, including tourism and alternative energy.
Although he hasn't held elective office except for serving as town moderator in Newry, Otten says he does have political experience and has done fundraising work and served in kitchen cabinets for Republican statewide candidates including Susan Collins and Jock McKernan.
Some Republicans have recently faulted Otten for what seemed like a shifting position on same-sex marriage, but Otten maintains that the apparent differences in his statements on the issue were simply the result of the interviewers asking different questions. When asked directly, Otten says that he would have vetoed the recent equal marriage bill, and that in his understanding there “would have been a referendum either way.” He believes that social issues should be "decided by the people of Maine" and that he hopes to focus mainly on economic issues during the campaign.
Otten also noted that he has “done more philanthropic work to improve the state of Maine” than any candidate in recent history.
In our original conversation, Otten said that, because he had done nothing wrong, he would not be removing or modifying either his campaign site or the site for his real estate project. He later called back to say that he had spoken to his business partner and that they would be willing to change the Colony website if the owners of the project in Utah object to its design.