Monday, February 27, 2006


Lance Dutson of Maine Web Report has been following and investigating a seeming fiasco of conflict-of-interest, poor planning and mismanagement at the Maine Office of Tourism. And he seems to have almost single-handedly brought the program to a grudging halt.

He has nicknamed it Pay-per-Gate. Basically, the MOT had been buying pay-per-click ads on search engine pages. It seems to have had good success in winning the coveted top spot on search pages involving Maine towns and attractions. Dutson, being a web developer and marketer, knows more than just a little about the subject. He did some digging, and found out that the fellow who has been placing the ads has a conflict of interest. Here's an excerpt from a letter Dutson wrote to an official at the MOT:

I have attempted to have a dialogue with Steve Lyons, who I understand is in charge of your departmentÂ’s internet presence. Unfortunately, Mr.Lyons has been misleading in his responses to me, which can all be read at I feel the matter needs to be elevated.

I have discovered that the person handling your pay per click campaign is named Mark Wrenn. Mr. Wrenn is also running the pay per click campaigns for other businesses that compete for the same keywords. In particular, Northern Outdoors. He told me himself that he tries not to bid too high for terms like ‘Maine snowmobiling’ on behalf of the MOT. Northern Outdoors also bids on the term ‘Maine snowmobiling’. This arrangement can’t possibly be seen as ethical.

Mr. Wrenn is bidding from one company to the next, which is clearly an outrageous conflict of interest, and the relationship between the MOT and Mr.Wrenn needs to end immediately.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; this entire campaign is an unbeleiveable affront to the Maine taxpayer, as your office has used state funds to actively route internet traffic and tourism business away from Maine merchants. After diligent pressure applied to Mr. Lyons and Mr. Wrenn, we were able to get your office to discontinue itÂ’s in-state advertising, which certainyl cost taxpayers thousands and extended overtly beyond the mandate of the Office of Tourism. I am still awaiting information from Mr.Lyons about the amount of money that was misappropriated during this several-year advertising fiasco. Perhaps you can help me get this information, so the Maine citizenry can understand the state of mismanagement your office is experiencing.

Do go read the whole Pay-per-Gate series of posts. Lance has been doing a bang-up job for us Maine taxpayers.

This episode shows the enormous power that a concerned citizen activist can yield with the internet. Lance doesn't seem to be a journalist by training, but his expertise in SEO and his willingness to publicly confront Maine bureaucrats and state contractors have made him the perfect reporter for this topic. While much of what goes on in the blogosphere is just rumination and rumor-spreading, Lance's efforts show the promise of blogs as protectors of truth and transparency in democratic government.

Every blogger has the potential to be an advocate-reporter in a field where they have experience. Thank you, Lance, for stepping up to the plate on this issue, and hopefully stopping the squandering of the MOT's online ad budget. I'll be reading as you try to figure out how the whole thing happened.

Maybe the eventual solution will be to just do away with the Maine Office of Tourism. (Yes, it's a libertarian fantasy. So sue me.)

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