“There ain’t gonna be no revolution without fuck ups.”Alan Caron, possibly quoting a fellow revolutionary
We had a “stop the presses” moment on deadline day last Sunday, when I received copies of documents written by independent Maine gubernatorial candidate Alan Caron. The documents arrived just hours after the Maine Sunday Telegram published another “deep dive” candidate profile by reporter Colin Woodard, this one on Caron. The piece, headlined “Builder of Coalitions First Rebuilt Himself,” contains a laundry list of crime, bad behavior, and personal and professional failures Caron experienced in his early adult years (he just turned 67). These include personal and political associations with actual militant communist revolutionaries — whom Caron claims “brutally attacked and threatened me” — that make a part-time pinko like Shawn Moody seem tame.
The crux of the Telegram story is that Caron abandoned his once passionate mission to help the working poor in favor of lucrative consulting gigs and advocacy for clients like the developer who wanted to build condos on Portland’s waterfront. This work “boosted his stock in the political mainstream and permanently alienated some of his former comrades,” the Herald wrote of Caron in 1992.
Woodard’s profile asserts that Caron’s troubled life — which included an eight-month stint in state prison for a probation violation related to a theft charge — had “completely turned around” by the time Gov. Joe Brennan issued him an official pardon in 1982. But that’s exactly when the documents we received show that Caron was neck deep in some exceedingly shady shit.
One of the documents is a typewritten letter, dated April 16, 1983, that Caron sent to three people involved with a political organization called the Maine Progressive Agenda Caucus (MPAC). It’s about his unauthorized use of MPAC money for — well, as you’ll see, the reasons he needed the money evolve over time. One of the recipients is Peter Kellman, a prominent trade-union leader in Maine with a long record of anti-war, anti-racism and pro-worker activism to his credit. The others are Christine Hasted, who’s done advocacy work with the Maine Equal Justice Project, and union leader Michael Cavanaugh.
Caron begins the letter by apologizing for any incoherent thoughts it may contain, because due to “a slipped disk and a major abscess in my gums I’m not altogether clearheaded.”
Then he admits it: “Yes, I did withdraw the [MPAC] funds. I did that as a short term (30-60 day) loan to myself so that I could purchase a vehicle under optimum terms while I was in Florida around christmas [sic].” Caron said he felt justified taking the money because a.) he thought he’d be able to repay it with proceeds from the sale of a printing press, b.) MPAC had “no immediate need for those funds elsewhere,” and c.) he could always sell the car, or use it as security for a new loan to pay MPAC back, “if that became necessary.”
“I’m sure that from today’s perspective this action looks both devious and stupid,” he continued, “but at the time it seemed to make a great deal of sense.” Caron goes on to list four options MPAC can take in the wake of its discovery that he bought a car with their money without their permission. Two of those options involved Caron still using the car. Another option, the first on the list, was “legal or public action.”
“If you elect the first course, indeed even if others become aware of this matter, I will be unable to defend myself in this way and will be driven from organizing, at least in this state, probably permanently.”
Nowhere in the documents is the exact sum Caron “loaned” to himself stated, but Kellman told The Bollard it was about five grand. In another letter, this one handwritten to Kellman a few months later, on July 6, 1983, Caron lists numerous sources of funds, besides the still un-sold printing press, that he’s counting on to repay the organization, including $1,200 in financial aid from Harvard University, the sale of some land being listed for $7,900, $4,000 owed to him by a “friend” who was selling a house, and the car itself, then valued at about $2,000. Caron pledges to repay the debt in full by Aug. 1 of that year.
A week or so after that (the typed letter is undated), Caron wrote to the trio again to say the Aug. 1 deadline is “a little optimistic.” Also, Caron admits, “I left out a few things in my first letter, hoping for a better reaction. I guess that was unrealistic.
“The fact is that only about half of the funds were invested in a vehicle, which I am now preparing for sale. The other half was used by me to cover a very serious medical emergency.” This emergency, Caron wrote, “rendered me unable to function publicly in any capacity. … I don’t mind revealing what the problem is to someone, and producing the receipts to verify it, but it is an awkward and embarassing [sic] matter.”
Caron had actually told Kellman what the “emergency” was in his handwritten letter earlier that month: “accelerating degenerative bone disease,” as well as “the sudden loss of most of my teeth.” The bone disease was “haltable and, perhaps, reversible but it cost a bundle to get to the bottom of it and ended up taking almost 6 months.” Caron wrote that he had to take “very quick action (24-48 hours)” to address the bone disease and the tooth loss, so he used the MPAC funds to pay for medical and/or dental treatment — and also apparently decided to buy a car in Florida with yet more of the organization’s money because, again, the terms of the sale were “optimal,” literally too good to pass up.
“I don’t still believe that was an altogether wrong action, although I know it was in a technical and legal sense,” Caron conceded to Kellman in the first July letter. He goes on to admit guilt and invite Kellman to punch him in the face, while also suggesting he should be forgiven.
“So Jesus, I fucked up,” Caron wrote. “So who doesn’t when things get heavy enough. So give me a break. Give me shit. Yell at me, huff and puff, let me have a right uppercut (watch the new choppers, though) but for christ’s [sic] sake don’t turn your back on me. ‘There ain’t gonna be no revolution without fuck ups.’”
Caron’s second letter that month concedes that amends were not made in the interim. “As to our future working together, I guess that’s a dead issue,” he wrote to Kellman, Hasted and Cavanaugh. “Given that respect, confidence and trust are essential ingredients in any relationship, and given the nature of your response, which clearly indicated the lack of any of those attitudes towards me, there’s no basis for a future working relationship.
“Naturally,” Caron continued, “we’re going to have to work around each other and I just hope we can be cordial. Time may heal some of this, I certainly hope so. Its cut both ways though.”
I reached Caron on his cell phone early in the afternoon of Sept. 23. He said he was driving to Augusta. At first, he claimed he didn’t know much of anything about MPAC. I explained that I’d been reading letters he wrote about what must have been a very memorable period in his life, what with the medical emergencies and the potential ruin of his political career. I noted that Kellman’s name was on one of the letters. Caron got prickly.
“Look up who Peter Kellman is and ask yourself what the motivation is” for these documents coming to light, he said. “I know Peter’s angry at me for not supporting everything the labor movement ever wanted.”
I sent Caron all the documents I’d received and he said he’d call me later that afternoon. Instead, he sent an e-mail. “First, I’m sorry for being impatient on the phone,” it began. “Getting hit with something that happened 35 years ago, that I frankly had forgotten about until I read these notes, and being told that it all goes to press in three hours, felt a lot like a cheap shot. Being told that it was sent to you by some old-line Democrats, still sore about losing a few campaigns against me, added to that sense.” [Note: I never told Caron how I got the documents.]
“I really don’t remember what this group was set up to do, in what time period, and what amounts of money we’re talking about,” he continued. “It seems clear that I borrowed some funds, which I apparently had control of, to fund some short-term needs until other funds arrived. None of the details are in this set of documents, and all [the missing details are] relevant.”
“What this is, at its heart, is a communication error, on my part, THIRTY FIVE YEARS AGO,” Caron wrote. “I borrowed funds from the group and didn’t properly communicate that to three other people I was working with. It was always clear, in my communications, including the two you have here, that this was a loan that I intended to repay as soon as possible, and that I had funds arriving soon to repay that loan. I did not make any attempt to hide the information about the loan from anyone.”
That last assertion smells a bit fishy, given that Caron explicitly told his three former compatriots that taking any “public action” regarding the “loan” would effectively end his career in Maine. “The implications of your decision in this matter cannot be overstated,” he told them.
In a follow-up e-mail, Caron wrote, “My assumption is that this was all resolved 34 years ago, or I would have heard about it before now. But whoever sent this should confirm that. If someone is accusing me of something beyond bad communications, they should come forward and make that accusation and then prove it. Otherwise, we’re really into the worst kind of guilt by insinuation.
“I believe you used the word ‘stealing,’ in reference to the funds being discussed here,” Caron added. “I don’t see anyone else making that claim. That is a very serious charge to make, and one that should be made carefully. While there is anger here, about my mishandling the situation, I don’t see anyone making that claim.”
Except, one could argue, Caron himself, who acknowledged to Kellman in writing that taking the MPAC funds without permission and spending the money on a car and medical bills was “wrong” in a “technical and legal sense.”
And then there’s Kellman. “The best way for me to describe [Caron] at this point is he’s a con artist and a hustler,” he told me by phone from his home in North Berwick. Caron “had stolen the money before his pardon hearing” in 1982, Kellman said.
MPAC initially formed to rally progressives to head off an attempt by anti-choice activists to scuttle the platform of the state Democratic Party in ’82. The group succeeded in that effort, Kellman said.
Kellman said Caron eventually paid back the money he’d taken. Caron was one of two MPAC organizers with the legal right to sign the group’s checks (Kellman was the other).
This whole sad and nasty episode was unnecessary, said Kellman. “If [Caron] had come to us, we would have helped him out,” he said. “It wouldn’t have come from that money, but I’m sure we would have people help him out” with his medical and transportation needs.
Caron seemed to believe that the sacrifices he’d made for progressive causes over the years warranted his highly questionable use of the MPAC money. “He justified it in terms of the revolution,” Kellman said.