Plagiarism is a serious charge. So serious that even serial miscreants such as Tiger Woods, Goldman Sachs and ex-Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Richardson’s campaign aides have never been accused of committing it.

To be found guilty of this ethical breach is to be lumped in with the likes of Vice President Joe Biden, who copped most of his memorable lines from the late Robert Kennedy and a failed British Labour Party leader.

Biden is also being investigated for stealing swear words from “South Park.” Or, possibly, Richardson. That guy is not happy.

The latest public figure forced to deal with a plagiarism scandal is Les Otten, a leading contender for the Republican nomination for governor. Otten has admitted that much of his written answer to a question from a blogger about education policy was stolen from “South Park.”

Sorry, it was actually poached from legislative testimony prepared by a conservative think tank run by Eric Cartman.

Otten promptly fired the person most responsible for that mistake, but that left his campaign without a candidate. So, he was forced to hire himself back and can somebody else.

This wasn’t the only instance of Otten’s being accused of appropriating material that belonged to others. His first campaign logo and Web site looked suspiciously like that of Barack Obama (excuse: “My Web guy didn’t realize Obama wasn’t a Republican”).

One of his business ventures used a design that bore more than a passing resemblance to another company’s (excuse: “How did I know the name ‘Goldman Sachs’ was already taken?”).

And his plan to create jobs bears a suspicious resemblance to that of the same think-tank that provided his education material (excuse: “When I’m governor, it’ll be legal to rob think-tanks”).

Possible bumpersticker: “Less Otten. More Originality.” I hope his campaign doesn’t steal it.

In an effort to find out what’s wrong with Otten’s moral standards, I considered interviewing the candidate. Except he kind of hates me for suggesting in an earlier column that he’s a business failure and a pompous ass. To get around that problem, I conducted my interview without actually talking to him.

Here are the verbatim results. Except for the verbatim part.

Me: Mr. Otten, how could these multiple instances of plagiarism have happened without your being aware of and approving them?

Otten: It has come to be practically a sort of rule in literature that a man, having once shown himself capable of original writing, is entitled thenceforth to steal from the writings of others at discretion.

Me: Wait, you just swiped that entire answer from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s criticism of plagiarists. And, incidentally, when did you ever come up with anything original?

Otten: I’m glad you asked. There was my statement during a debate that if Jackson Labs builds its new facility in Florida, it’ll cost Maine 7,000 jobs, which was original by a factor of 6,800 jobs. I often claim to have saved Fenway Park, which requires some imagination. And I recently told the Bangor Daily News that many of the state’s prominent figures – such as George Mitchell, Bill Cohen and Stephen King – have been forced to relocate to avoid Maine’s excessive taxes.

Me: That was original, but not in a good way. In an editorial on May 4, the Bangor paper pointed out that King still lives here; Mitchell resides in New York, a state with almost the same tax burden as Maine; and Bill Cohen stayed in Washington because he became a lobbyist. The paper accused you of “making things up.”

Otten: One minute you’re complaining I’m getting all my material from somebody else, and the next you’re claiming I’m producing my own fiction. Make up your mind.

Me: OK, forget about all that. Just tell me what your education policy actually is.

Otten: We need education in the obvious more than investigation of the obscure.

Me: I think Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. already said that.

Otten: What think-tank does he work for? I’ll hire him to replace that plagiarist I fired.

Me: Why do you still believe you can get away with passing off other people’s work as your own?

Otten: All the courses of my life do show I am not in the roll of common men.

Me: That’s Shakespeare. You’re pathetic.

Otten: I feel your scorn and I accept it.

Me: Arrrrgh. Jon Stewart said that on “The Daily Show.” Doesn’t this persistent use of stolen ideas indicate you’re not fit to be governor?

Otten: I have nothing but contempt for the kind of governor who is afraid, for whatever reason, to follow the course that he knows is best for the state.

Me: Is that Sophocles? Doesn’t matter. You’re still not answering my questions.

Otten: A fool may ask more questions in an hour than a wise man can answer in seven years.

Me: I don’t know the author of that line, but I bet you’ll be hearing from his lawyer before this campaign is over.

Otten: I think it was said right after that congressional hearing by one of those executives from Goldman Sachs.

Got an original thought? E-mail me at