Robinson: Sussman-Pingree Split Spells Trouble for Liberals


It was supposed to be a love for the ages.

Yet, tragically, billionaire Democratic mega-donor S. Donald Sussman and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) are having what someone at the Bangor Daily News described as an “conscious uncoupling.”

That is, for those not following Gwenyth Paltrow on Twitter, a divorce.

You may remember that the marriage was a shotgun wedding of sorts, expedited by the revelation that Pingree was flying on Sussman’s private jet in violation of federal campaign finance regulations. (Honestly, who could forget her jet-setting to the Virgin Islands with none other than former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank during the height of the financial crisis?)

Tying the knot made it a lot easier for Sussman to help his favorite congresswoman without worrying about pesky campaign finance restrictions. And help her he did – with direct and indirect, disclosed and undisclosed financial support of great magnitude.

Alas, the swinging, lavish life of the Virgin Islands had greater allure for Mr. Sussman than frosty nights at the Nebo Lodge.

“It is a very amicable and truly mutual decision,” said Pingree. “It is sad for both of us, but we continue to have the utmost respect for each other.”

So it’s over. But beyond the sad love lost, Maine’s most high-profile political uncoupling will have ripples across Maine politics.

Sussman was easily the single largest individual contributor to the Maine Democratic Party. In 2014 alone, he gave more than $200,000 to the Maine Democratic State Committee and various county committees. He also maxed out to Democratic candidate Michael H. Michaud and was a major supporter of Democratic congressional candidate Emily Cain.

Will that last? Early signs point to no. In 2015, Sussman has given only a paltry $500 to Democratic committees in the Pine Tree State. Yes, there are no pressing elections this year, but there are also rumors the nominal North Haven resident has switched his voter registration to sunny Florida.

Time will tell whether Sussman will return the phone calls of desperate Democratic moneymen, but his severing of ties with Maine portends financial struggle for Maine Democrats.

For starters, Pingree losing roughly 99.9999999 percent of her net worth (and her biggest direct and indirect financial backer) puts the First Congressional District in play like never before. Of course, for the seat to truly be “in play” we’ll have to find a candidate a bit more capable and inspiring than the last one. If Dean Scontras isn’t looking for moving company recommendations, he should be.

Beyond Pingree’s individual fortunes, Maine Democrats will be broadly affected by the potential, if not likely, loss of hundreds or thousands of dollars in donations. So will the liberal-Democratic 501(c)4 and 501(c)3 groups that have relied heavily on untold sums of Sussman’s dark money to operate as an auxiliary Democratic Party infrastructure.

The long-brewing separation undoubtedly played a role in Sussman’s decision this summer to unload the Maine newspapers he so helpfully bailed out in 2010. If you thought the new ownership of the Maine Today Media newspapers, which includes the Portland Press Herald, signaled a change in the doggedly liberal slant of the papers, recent events have proved that wrong.

Trouble filling out routine financial disclosures has attended Pingree’s familial woe. After receiving an extension on the paperwork when she missed the May 15 deadline, Pingree blew through her second Aug. 15 deadline.

“It’s really just like getting an extension from your professor on a term paper and then getting another extension,” said Pingree spokesman Willie Ritch, heroically keeping a straight face, apparently.

What a role model for Maine students everywhere! For some reason, I don’t think most professors, even on a crunchy campus like the College of the Atlantic, Pingree’s alma mater, would tolerate blowing a deadline by more than three months.

But a cursory perusal of Maine’s laudable broadsheets shows most reporters agree with Ritch – flaunting disclosures is no more serious than turning in your book report a few days late.

Talk about double standards. If any conservative tried to dip, dodge, duck, dive and dodge around routine financial disclosures, we’d need a couple acres of Maine pasture just to hold all the cows liberal editorial boards would be having. And those who do report on Pingree’s abject dereliction of duty, such as the Sun Journal’s Scott Thistle, risk being excluded from polite society.

Just imagine if Rep. Bruce Poliquin forgot to dot an “I” on one of his forms. He’d be pilloried.

“Transparency is a fundamental value of democratic society… Every elected official should file these routine financial disclosures…” and on and on they would go.

Yet Pingree, being a member of the newspapers’ favorite political party, gets away scot-free with her juvenile excuses and Clintonesque attitude toward transparency.


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