John Branson, the Portland attorney who represented Hoffman during the campaign, praised the Legislature's actions.
"In enacting changes to the law governing the circulation of nominating petitions, the Legislature has corrected the gross distortion of legislative intent reflected in the Maine Supreme Court's July 2008 decision in the Hoffman case," Branson said.
"There is more than ample case law on this subject," Bright said, "and indeed courts have an obligation, under that existing case law, to interpret cases such as the Hoffman case in a manner that not only avoids infringement on the constitutional speech and association rights, but whenever possible to apply definitions and rulings that favor protection of constitutional rights. Not only did the Maine Supreme Court clearly misconstrue legislative intent in this case, it ignored legal precedent as well as precedent set by the Secretary of State in previous rulings."
"At the same time," Bright added, "it became clear to everyone involved that the results of the Democratic Party's actions constituted a clear and present danger to the future of the candidate petitioning process as it had been understood and applied for many years. With the Democratic Party's position endorsed by the Maine Supreme Court, and with the federal courts refusing to even consider the constitutional implications of this case, there existed serious potential for monkey-wrenching future petition drives."
"Previously, if you wanted to prevent a valid petition from being considered you had to steal it," Bright said, "but under the Democratic Party's concept, all you had to do was shout 'look, there's Elvis,' and then quickly sign the petition as the circulator looked away. The party's logic was not only bogus but was dangerous."
Bright believes Democratic Party operatives knew going in what they were doing, and knew that its own collection procedures for Allen would also have failed under the new rules. But the party also knew it was safe from scrutiny because by the time it convinced the Secretary of State to apply the new definition during the challenge to Hoffman's petitions, the challenge period for party candidate petitions had expired.
"This was clearly a 'do as I say not as I do' situation," Bright said, adding he believes the Democratic Party had two reasons for its actions.
"The surface reason was because of some convoluted reasoning that Tom Allen couldn't compete in a three-way election where there was a candidate with more progressive values and positions that Tom holds. I didn't agree with that - in fact I thought Hoffman's candidacy actually would have helped Tom because it would have moved him away from a centrist position that Sen. Collins clearly controlled. But I think the real issue was the fact that the national party's Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was funding the vast majority of the state party's campaign operation - at least the part that the Obama campaign wouldn't eventually fund - and the Democratic Party desperately needed to keep that cash flowing in. So it was willing to do anything it could that would even remotely increase the perception that Allen stood a good chance to win this election. It may have been an understandable - but unethical - short-term tactic on the part of the Democratic Party, but it enabled long-term damage to our system of democracy. It wasn't good government and it wasn't good policy. It cost the Democratic Party a lot of money that could have been used for local campaigns, it seriously damaged the credibility and ethical reputation of the Democratic Party, and, as it turned out, was completely unnecessary based on the election results. In fact, it would not surprise me if the Democratic Party's actions in this matter earned more additional votes for Collins than they did for Allen."
"I'm guessing there was a lot of back-room chatter and that the party didn't go down this slimy slope without assurances that the damage it was about to do to our electoral system would somehow be undone after the 2008 senate race was over," Bright said. "An enterprising reporter who took the time to go after all the emails that were likely flying around between the offices of the Secretary of State, Attorney General and the Maine Democratic Party might find out just how thin an ethical framework existed. I don't believe for a minute that the Democratic Party was so blind that it couldn't see what a long-term mess it was creating in the cause of winning just one election cycle. Party leaders had to have some assurances that this thing wouldn't come back to bite them next cycle."
"Instead of telling the Secretary of State he made a mistake in listening to the Democratic Party lawyers, and clarifying the presence requirement that has been in place for years, and that everyone understood (including the Democrats even if they won't admit it in public), the Legislature chose to cover the Secretary's butt by accepting this bogus definition," Bright said, "And no one - least of all the federal courts - seems to give a damn about the Constitutional issues that were raised by the after-the-fact application of this new rule against only one candidate."
"The Legislature has cleaned up their mess by passing this bill and reasserting its intent in dealing with when a petition is to be voided, so for the time being the process is safe. But that does not excuse the unethical behavior of the Maine Democratic Party in this case," Bright said.