July 17, 2013

Wealth allows Pingree to pay her ‘dues’ to House Democrats

Maine's 1st District congresswoman went from giving to fellow politicians about $180 a year to about $67,000 a year.

By NEIL GLUCKMAN Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

(Continued from page 2)

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In this November 2012 staff file photo, U.S Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, celebrates her victory at the Bayside Bowl in Portland. Maine's 1st District congresswoman went from giving to fellow politicians about $180 a year to about $67,000 a year.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

Related Documents

PDF: Pingree contributions to federal campaigns, 2011-12

Lawmakers, he suggested in a TED Talk this year, have an almost subconscious trigger that goes off when they are voting on a bill that reminds them to consider how their vote may be seen in the eyes of their donors. 

“This dependence upon the funders produces a subtle, understated, camouflaged bending to keep the funders happy,” Lessig said. 

Pingree insisted she did not give enough to individual candidates to influence their votes -- and influencing them was not her intention. 

“I can honestly say there’s never a person who I’ve given a donation to that I’ve gone up to at some point and said, ‘Do you remember I gave you a donation? And now do X,’” she said. 

Damon Cann, a professor of politics and methodology at Utah State University, said that members of Congress tend to be more loyal to their colleagues who’ve made contributions to their campaigns.  

“The evidence I’ve compiled suggests that leaders in Congress who make contributions to individuals subsequently see those individuals shift their voting behavior towards the leadership,” Cann said. 

Pingree is one of four members of the state congressional delegation. Only one other, independent Sen. Angus King, has given personal money to federal campaigns. The Center for Responsive Politics lists King as donating $6,000 to the Democratic National Committee and $6,750 to Barack Obama since 2008.

U. S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s leadership PAC, Mill to the Hill PAC, has contributed $162,770 to Democratic candidates in the past 10 years. Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ Dirigo PAC, contributed about $771,000 to Republican candidates in 10 years. Neither legislator contributed any personal money, according to the records. 

Politicians often “use their leadership PACs to gain clout among their colleagues and boost their bids for leadership posts or committee chairmanships,” according to the CRP’s website. 

Though the money Pingree contributed is her own, it can serve the same purpose as leadership PAC money. 

“Those PAC contributions are a little more complicated because a member of Congress has to raise money from a contributor into the PAC,” said Willy Ritch, Pingree’s spokesperson. “And then make the contribution to another candidate, but in the end the goal is the same — getting like-minded people elected to Congress.”

Whether or not Pingree’s behavior interferes with the democratic process, it’s likely that residents of Maine’s 1st District will reap the benefits of her contributions.

“The more powerful a member of Congress is, the more likely that she or he is able to get things inserted into legislation that benefit her or his constituents,” said Mark Brewer, a professor of political science at the University of Maine. “The more likely they’ll be able to pick up the phone if the executive branch is doing something and say, ‘This isn’t good for my district, can you change something?’”

Brewer sees no problem with mixing money and politics. 

“In terms of do I see a conflict of interest, I’d say no,” he said. “As long as we know who’s giving, how much they’re giving and where they’re giving to.”

Then he added, “If you’re going to be out there beating the drum for campaign finance reform, does it seem a little hypocritical? Maybe, but it’s one of those things where everybody does it.” 

S. Donald Sussman gave $2,500 to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting in 2011, prior to his marriage to Pingree.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell. Center senior reporter John Christie contributed to this report.

Email: mainecenter@gmail.com. 

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