January 2, 2011

Sussman top donor in Maine politics

Rep. Chellie Pingree's fiance gave $1.3 million to Maine Democratic causes in 2010, reports show.

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA - S. Donald Sussman, the billionaire hedge fund manager engaged to Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, was the top individual donor to Maine political causes in 2010, according to state campaign finance reports.

click image to enlarge

S. Donald Sussman

POLITICAL DONATIONS BY YEAR

2002 - $205,800

2003 - $300,000

2004 - $45,000

2005 - $5,000

2006 - $130,000

2007 - $15,000

2008 - $710,000

2009 - $935,000

2010 - $1.3 million

Total: $3.66 million

2010 DONATIONS

POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES

Pingree Leadership Fund - $10,000

Alfond Business Community and Democracy - $2,500

Maine Democratic State Committee – $311,500

House Democratic Campaign Committee - $100,000

Senate Democratic Campaign Committee - $29,000

Seacoast Democrats - $3,000

Knox County Democratic Committee - $500

Lincoln County Democratic Committee - $500

Equality Maine - $389,000

Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund - $110,000

Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools - $50,000

Maine Center for Economic Policy - $10,000

No Higher Taxes for Maine PAC - $300,000

Total: $1.3 million

Source: Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices

Sussman contributed about $1.3 million to causes championed by Maine Democrats in 2010. Since 2002, he has spent more than $3.6 million on candidates and ballot questions, and political action and party committees, according to reports filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. Sussman, who has owned homes in Maine for many years, made his first donation -- to the Maine Democratic Party -- in 1997.

Typically preferring to remain out of the spotlight, Sussman was thrust into the headlines during this fall's election amid reports that Pingree had taken flights aboard his private jet.

That controversy focused on Pingree, her re-election campaign and her status with Sussman. (The couple revealed their engagement after the jet trips came to light. Before her election to Congress, Pingree had criticized some politicians for accepting private jet travel.)

Maine political observers and academics, however, note that Sussman's political contributions are also newsworthy.

"I don't recall anyone donating that amount or even close to that amount -- large campaign spending is only a recent phenomenon in Maine and we don't have a great deal of history to go on," said Doug Hodgkin, a historian and political science professor emeritus at Bates College in Lewiston. "What this means in terms of a larger picture, I would say it's consistent with the trend nationally for certain individuals to spend large amounts of money on campaigns."

Hodgkin and Paul Mills of Farmington, a noted Maine political historian, both said there are plenty of examples of Mainers spending millions of dollars to self-finance political campaigns -- most recently failed gubernatorial candidates Eliot Cutler, who spent $2.1 million on his bid, and Les Otten, who spent $2.75 million -- but few have spent that kind of money to support political causes in the state.

"Robert A.G. Monks has sprinkled funds to both political parties over the last 40 years really, ever since 1970, both Republicans and Democrats, but not quite to the scale that Sussman did," Mills said. "But in terms of today's dollars, (Monks) certainly spent significant sums of money, hundreds of thousands, and he spent over $3 million of his own on his last campaign for the U.S. Senate, the third time that he ran in 1996."

In Maine, campaign donations to individual candidates are limited to $750 per election cycle, but donations to political action committees are unlimited. Sussman's largest donations in 2010 were about $390,000 to Equality Maine, more than $300,000 to the Maine Democratic State Committee and about $110,000 to a PAC that supported pro-environment candidates for governor and the Maine Legislature, the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund.

Sussman, 64, is founder and chairman of a billion-dollar investment fund called Paloma Partners, based in Greenwich, Conn. In Maine, he resides on North Haven -- which is also where Pingree lives.

"I see Maine as a place that is filled with opportunities for everyone -- opportunities for good jobs and economic growth, for enjoying our natural environment and for raising healthy kids who can all achieve their dreams," Sussman said in a statement. "I support organizations and candidates who share these values and that's always money well-spent."

Sussman also spent $300,000 on the No Higher Taxes for Maine PAC, a group that campaigned in the spring against repealing the tax reform package passed by Democratic lawmakers. The repeal, driven predominately by Maine Republicans, was successful.

(Continued on page 2)

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