PORTLAND — A campaign commercial attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree will no longer be seen on one Portland television station.
Steve Thaxton, president of WCSH (Channel 6), said Thursday that he stopped running the ad from the Maine Republican Party because of a “factual inaccuracy” in it.
The ad, which WCSH ran twice Wednesday, intertwines Pingree speaking of “Main Street, not Wall Street” with images of private jet travel, bags of government bailout money and an island vacation home, all referring to her relationship with S. Donald Sussman, a wealthy hedge fund manager and Pingree’s fiance.
An unseen announcer follows the clips of Pingree by saying, “Get real, Chellie. Pingree’s boyfriend got $200 million from the Wall Street bailout. Now she flies on her own private jet.”
The announcer also says, “Wall Street money lets Chellie fly her pals in Congress to tropical vacations,” while the screen shows a photo of Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and “the Wall Street bailout helps Pingree and her billionaire boyfriend build a seaside mansion in the Virgin Islands.”
After Pingree’s campaign objected to the ad, Thaxton gave the GOP a chance to correct what he saw as untrue — that the jet belongs to Pingree.
“It is our understanding that Chellie Pingree does not own a private jet,” Thaxton said. “We understand that the one being discussed is owned by her fiance/boyfriend, but in fact, it’s his ownership. So that is a concrete, factual inaccuracy.”
The ad continues to run on Portland stations WGME (Channel 13) and WMTW (Channel 8).
“We have run it past our counsel,” said David Abel, president and general manager of WMTW, “and really do not have a reason to pull the ad.”
Tom Humpage, general manager for WGME, said his station will continue to run the ad, but declined further comment.
In the race for the seat representing Maine’s 1st Congressional District, Republican Dean Scontras of Eliot trailed Pingree by 15 percentage points in the most recent Maine Poll, taken earlier this week. That deficit was down from 24 points in a similar poll taken last month.
“This was a desperate attempt by Dean Scontras and his supporters to use lies to distract attention from his extreme positions,” said Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch, who disputed the claim that Sussman’s firm received any federal bailout money. “Dean Scontras doesn’t want people to know that he’s against increasing the minimum wage and promised to protect a tax break for big corporations that ship jobs overseas.”
Ritch noted Pingree’s opposition to the Wall Street bailout, enacted before she took office in January 2009, and her votes to terminate the Troubled Asset Relief Program and for greater regulation and oversight of TARP funds.
“Chellie Pingree has a track record of standing up against big corporations, from the big drug companies to Wall Street,” Ritch said. “Her opponent wants to give tax breaks to the wealthiest among us and give the big banks and credit card companies a pass. You can see why he wanted to cover up his record with the cartoonish lies in that TV commercial.”
Lance Dutson, communications director for the Maine Republican Party, said he stands by the ad. He pointed to a financial disclosure form filed by Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, listing a gift of first-class travel aboard a private jet to the Virgin Islands. The gift was from Sussman and Pingree, according to Frank’s disclosure form.
“When this story first broke,” Dutson said, “the essence of Pingree’s response was, ‘Hey, this is the family plane. Donald and I are engaged. It’s tantamount to him being part of my family. So his plane is my plane. It’s all fine.’ Now she’s trying to parse this technicality.”
Bernstein Shur, a Portland law firm, sent a letter at the behest of Sussman’s Paloma Partners to Portland television stations, warning of legal action should they run any ad “to the effect that Paloma Partners received TARP funds, which is not true.”
A spokesman for Paloma Partners released a statement regarding its dealings in 2008 with the insurance giant American International Group:
“Paloma never received TARP funds. The transaction with AIG was a routine, fully collateralized securities-lending agreement of the type done every day by insurance companies. The transaction involved Paloma initially giving AIG $200 million in return for equivalent securities. Upon maturity, Paloma received $200 million and returned the equivalent amount in securities to AIG.”
Thaxton, of WCSH, said the question of bailout money did not concern him as much as the claim that Pingree owns the jet.
“We try to have the (campaign) spots run,” Thaxton said. “First of all, we’re in the business to derive advertising income. And secondly, we really would like the public to make their own choice, whenever possible. So it is a rare occasion that we would do this.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: