PORTLAND – The television executive at WCSH (Channel 6) responsible for pulling a Maine Republican Party advertisement attacking 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree offered to continue airing the ad if the state party agreed to pay legal costs from any resulting lawsuits.

“I gave them the choice,” said Steve Thaxton, WCSH president, who cited factual inaccuracy as the reason for discontinuing the ad after it ran twice on Wednesday. “They could indemnify (the station) and/or they could change the copy. They refused both.”

Thaxton’s station and at least one other in the Portland market received a letter from the Portland law firm Bernstein Shur warning of possible legal action for airing any ad claiming that Paloma Partners received government bailout money.

Paloma Partners is the hedge fund operated by S. Donald Sussman, who is engaged to Pingree and owns a private jet lampooned in the GOP ad, in which an unseen female announcer says, “Pingree’s boyfriend got $200 million from the Wall Street bailout. Now she flies on her own private jet.”

Two other Portland TV stations, WMTW (Channel 8) and WGME (Channel 13) continue to run the 30-second ad.

Thaxton said he received the letter, but that his main objection was to the claim that Pingree “flies on her own private jet.”

“I did not have a problem, nor do I at this point have a problem with the part of the argument on the bailout funds,” Thaxton said Friday. “The objection that came through the Paloma lawyers is not a factor here What is an issue, for us, is the misstatement that she owns a private plane, which could be remedied quite easily by saying a private plane or her fiance’s private plane, which the GOP declined.”

The Bernstein Shur attorney who sent the letter declined comment on possible legal action.

Thaxton said his station has pulled political ads before — though never candidate-based ads, which enjoy greater freedom of speech protection than issue or advocacy ads from third parties — but that this was his first request for indemnification, “only because our counsel said that might be one way to make this easy on (the Maine Republican Party).”

Lance Dutson, communications director for the Maine Republican Victory Campaign, released a statement Friday giving his view on both major objections to the ad.

Dutson pointed to a waiver from the House Ethics Committee — which has already cleared Pingree for non-campaign use of the jet — granted to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., for Frank and his partner to join Pingree and Sussman on a round-trip flight from Portland to the Virgin Islands last December.

The waiver, written by ethics committee chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and ranking member Jo Bonner, R-Ala., said House rules allow members to accept gifts from other members — yet the plane is owned not by Pingree but by Sussman.

“It is therefore arguable that the exception permitting Member-to-Member gifts is not applicable to the gift of the flight,” the waiver read. “However, given the relationship between Representative Pingree and Mr. Sussman, and the fact that Representative Pingree is, in fact, a fellow Member of the House, the Committee deems this an unusual case in which it would be appropriate to grant a waiver of the gifts rule …”

Dutson said if Pingree is allowed to make such a gift, then she is a de facto owner of the jet.

As for Sussman’s hedge fund receiving bailout money, Dutson referred to a release from insurance giant American International Group, Inc., that identifies Paloma Partners as one of two hedge funds receiving $200 million from AIG — which also paid Goldman Sachs and foreign banks Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank more than $11 billion each.

Earlier this week, a Paloma spokesman said the money from AIG was part of a securities-lending agreement in which, had AIG not returned the $200 million it borrowed from Paloma, Paloma could have sold the corporate bonds it had borrowed — before the bailout — from AIG.

Accordingly, “none of Donald Sussman, Paloma or any other Paloma entity received TARP funds,” concluded a letter written by a Bernstein Shur attorney and released by the Pingree campaign.

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: gjordan@pressherald.com