Editorial: Brazen Political Bamboozling


When the failing Maine Today Media papers announced weeks ago that billionaire left-wing financier Donald Sussman was “loaning” the paper $3 million out of the kindness of his heart, anyone with the slightest inclination toward objective reasoning saw this for what it was – bunk.

Sussman, the papers said, was only taking a 5% ownership stake and had no interest in controlling the company. Those of us with a more skeptical view toward the hedge fund baron and his ultra-left-wing congresswoman wife knew this was a classic example of brazen political bamboozling. Now, lo and behold, the truth comes out – Sussman’s 5% has turned into 75% ownership, and Chellie Pingree now owns the two biggest newspapers in her district.

The people of Maine have every right to be outraged about this. Sussman and Pingree are the last people that should have control of any media outlet. To review quickly their greatest hits:

  • Donald Sussman has been under investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission for faking a women-owned company. According to a federal judge, Sussman’s ploy “may have been designed to mislead a number of observers, from the tax authorities to the S.E.C. to entities wishing to invest in women-owned businesses”
  • Donald Sussman has been taking advantage of a major tax loophole by funneling his hedge funds millions through the U.S. Virgin Islands, at the same time that his then-fiance Chellie Pingree was railing against these loopholes on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was identified in a New York Times report about an IRS crackdown on these arrangements, but claimed he was not doing anything wrong:
    “I live in St. John. I follow the rules. I do what I’m supposed to do”
  • Chellie Pingree is a repeat offender of campaign finance laws. She was cited multiple times for failing to report her donations, all the while urging to get ‘money out of politics’. She currently faces a pending investigation from the Federal Elections Commission for taking Sussman’s private jet to a fundraising event in New York in 2010.
  • Chellie Pingree is on tape from the House floor railing against “fat cats” who fly around in private jets. Pingree almost literally walked from the floor of the House and into Sussman’s $25 million luxury private jet after the speech.
  • Pingree straight-out lied to press about her use of the plane. Days before she was filmed stepping out of the plane and on to a red carpet (seriously, a real red carpet), her spokesman Willie Ritch told press she didn’t use the plane, but flew commercial. Turns out Pingree has been commuting between DC, Maine, and the Virgin Islands in Sussman’s jet all along.
  • Pingree built her career as a supposed champion for reducing the influence of money on politics, all the while taking millions from Sussman, funneled through third-party groups.

This list could go on and on. Pingree and Sussman are utterly entangled in ethical compromise, and the idea that they could responsibly preside over an institution as politically influential as a newspaper enterprise is a joke.

But the purchase of the news media by politicians, even ones not as ethically-challenged as Pingree and Sussman, is reason for outrage. Pingree’s ownership of these papers now amounts to state-controlled media, and this is something the people of this state will likely reject.

The Sussman papers are going to face a bleak reality now. Every Mainer that purchases a Press Herald or buys an ad in one of the papers is literally handing money to a left-wing political enterprise. As this realization grows, this will not be helpful to the company’s bottom line. And, if conservatives were to take a lesson from the Left’s playbook, Press Herald advertisers could start receiving significant pushback from their customers, along the lines of the Rush Limbaugh/ WGAN controversy.

For a paper that has already failed the test of the free market several times over, none of this will help. For the people of Maine, the proliferation of an alternative media can’t come soon enough.