Thursday, May 23, 2013
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has taken frequent flights on a private jet owned by her partner Donald Sussman, founder and chairman of a billion dollar hedge fund called Paloma Partners, while conducting business as a member of Congress, according to an investigative blog called MaineWatchdog.
In 2006, Pingree, while president of Common Cause, a non-partisan, non-profit group that promotes government transparency, criticized such travel by members of Congress, MaineWatchdog reports.
"Most Americans never have and never will fly on a chartered jet, much less a fancy corporate jet complete with wet bar and leather couches," she said, according to written testimony before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution in 2006. "So when members of Congress constantly fly around on corporate jets and pay only the cost of a commercial ticket, it contributes to the corrosive public perception that members of Congress are more like the fat cats of Wall Street than they are like the rest of us."
MaineWatchdog's investigation included photographs and videotape of Pingree walking from a private jet and flight logs of Sussman's plane. Pingree, who represents Maine's 1st Congressional District, is up for re-election this November against Republican Dean Scontras.
The flights may be afoul of House ethics rules, according to a summary of the travel rules found on the website for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
"While expenses for officially-connected travel may be accepted, members and staff may not accept expenses from a private source for travel the primary purpose of which is to conduct official business," the website summary says. "Clauses 1-3 of House Rule 24 prohibit the acceptance of private support – both monetary and in-kind – for official House activities. Thus, when the primary purpose of a trip is to conduct official business, such as general oversight activities within a committee’s jurisdiction, the expenses must be paid with official House funds."
But a statement from Willy Ritch, Pingree's spokesman, said no ethics rules were violated and no taxpayer money was used to fund the trips.
"Let’s be clear about the facts of this story: it’s not about a member of Congress traveling with corporate lobbyists on a company-owned plane," he said in a statement. "This is about Chellie traveling home to Maine with the man she lives with and is in a long-term relationship with. Chellie has done nothing that violates ethics laws or House rules."
Ritch said the plane in question is not corporate-owned, but owned by Sussman personally.
"When Chellie was elected to Congress, she checked with the House Ethics Committee and they assured her that, because Donald is her partner, the travel is allowable under House Rules and does not need to be reported," Ritch said. "Any travel on commercial flights that is reimbursed by taxpayers is fully reported and the statements and descriptions of expenses can be seen online."
The Maine Republican Party sent out a press release criticizing Pingree.
"Chellie Pingree's hypocrisy is simply stunning," said Christie-Lee McNally, executive director of the Maine GOP, in a statement. "She has made herself out to be a champion of the underclass, but now we see she's turned into the same 'Wall Street Fat Cat' she railed against."
This story has been updated from the original post.