Politics

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

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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

That’s a strategy she said she shares with her husband, who according to the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan group in Washington, has given more than $12.21 million in political donations to “campaigns, party committees, ballot initiatives, political nonprofits and super PACs over the years, starting in the 1990s at the federal level and in 2002 in Maine, where he’s spent more than $4.5 million.” 

“None of his giving has anything to do with me paying my dues but I do encourage him,” Pingree said. 

“He’s just as invested as me in having a Democratic majority in Congress so, in an overall way, he’s anxious to help some of the same people that I help. His giving does not apply in any way to my own effectiveness in Congress,” Pingree said. “The way that it works, you kind of have to do it yourself.” 

Pingree met Sussman, who is the majority owner of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel newspapers, in 2007, her website states. She was elected to Congress the following year and was appointed to the Armed Services Committee and the Rules Committee, then later the Agriculture Committee. She supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Financial Services Reform Bill and the Affordable Care Act and received high ratings from pro-choice, environmental and labor groups, according to Project Vote Smart.

Pingree served in the Maine Senate from 1992 to 2000 and as Senate majority leader from 1996 to 2000. Her daughter Hannah Pingree represented coastal and island towns in Knox and Hancock counties in the Maine House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010 and was the Speaker of the House during her last term. Maine’s term limits law prohibited both Pingrees from running for reelection when their terms expired. 

Before her career in politics, Chellie Pingree founded and ran a knitting business in North Haven. She also served as a tax collector and as a member of the School Board. 

Her tenure as president and CEO of Common Cause from 2002 to 2007, after an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, launched her onto the national stage. In that role, she became an advocate of getting big money out of politics. 

“The current entrenched pay-to-play system leads to our weak health-care system, as well as weak environmental and consumer protections,” wrote Pingree in an op-ed that she co-authored for The Oregonian newspaper in 2006. “Lawmakers must concentrate on pleasing their donors rather than meeting the needs of their constituents.” 

Since her marriage, Pingree has given to 55 federal candidates across the country, including Barack Obama. She gave the legal maximum amount to the Democratic Party by giving $30,800 to both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

She tended to give to candidates who were in tight races, such as U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, who faced another longtime legislator, Republican Tom Latham, and U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, an Iraq War veteran who unseated the tea party favorite Joe Walsh. Nearly half of Pingree’s recipients also received contributions from her husband. 

'EVERYBODY' DOES IT‘

“It is a conundrum,” Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said of Pingree’s large donations and her reputation as anti-big money. “She does believe in trying to get big money out of politics, but she also realizes that she’s in a world where big money dominates politics.”

Opponents of big money in politics fear that large campaign contributions interfere with the democratic process. 

Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School, is the author of the recent book, “Republic, Lost: How money corrupts Congress – and a plan to stop it.”

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