Friday, March 7, 2014
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.
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
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.
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