Frary: Following the Money Behind Question One


Mainers for Accountable Elections, operating as a front for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE), is the organization that collected signatures to put Proposition One (aka, Question One) on November’s ballot. Their pitch, that we must get money out of politics so the Voice of the People may be heard in all its purity and perfection, is welcome to many. It seems appropriate to give some attention to the Mainers for Accountable Elections/MCCE funding sources.

Rep. Joel Stetkis, a carpenter from Canaan, has undertaken the investigation unaccountably overlooked by Maine’s vigilant mainstream media. He points out that a man named Sean Eldridge has contributed $200,000 to the “Accountables.” I’m guessing that Sean would have preferred to donate his money to New Yorkers for Accountable Maine Elections had such an organization existed.

So who, you may ask, is Sean Eldridge? He’s the ambitious young man who challenged Chris Gibson in New York’s Nineteenth Congressional District in 2014.

Gibson is a Republican who holds a PhD in government from Cornell University, rose to the rank of colonel during 24 years in the U.S. Army, commanded the 82nd Airborne 2nd Brigade Combat Team, deployed seven times, earned two Legions of Merit, four Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with Star, the Master Parachutist Badge and the Ranger Tab. He taught American politics at West Point and has worked as a national security affairs fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 2008, he published his first book, Securing the State, which offered his overview on national security decision-making.

[SEE ALSO: Major Donor to Maine Campaign Finance Group Has History of Attempting to Buy Election]

Sean Eldridge is a Democrat who married Chris Hughes, a Facebook multi-multi-multi-millionaire. One sees a certain resemblance to the Pingree-Sussman alliance.

Gibson was born in the district and retained life-long residency. Sean and Chris bought a nifty little mansion in the district and ran for the seat less than nine months later. An article in Politico called Eldridge’s candidacy “brazen.” TheNew York Times reporter, Ray Hernandez, wrote a report entitled “Young, rich and relocating yet again in hunt for political office” a “story of how one young couple came to the Hudson Valley with a fortune and big political dreams.”

The failed ambitions of Chris Hughes’ trophy spouse might serve as a reminder that money does not guarantee political success. He “personally” donated more money to his own campaign ($4.25 million) than Gibson’s total budget ($3 million). Altogether he raised $6.3 million with some help from George Soros and other wealthy liberal political hobbyists.

A negligible fraction of Eldridge’s financial support came from inside his district. This parallels the financial history of Mainers (sic!!) for Accountable Elections.

There’s another feature of Hughes/Eldridge political adventure which has relevance to political developments in Maine. The pair established a non-profit called Hudson River Ventures when they first moved out of Manhattan looking for a ripe congressional district. Their first choice, the Eighteenth District receded beyond their grasp so they moved to the Nineteenth and moved Hudson River Ventures with them. The Daily Beast described Hudson River Ventures as “essentially a vote-buying apparatus masquerading as an economic-development project, to win over small-business owners and their employees.” If this is an accurate assessment then the Manhattan emigrants spent twice as much in their abortive political launch. Mainers should keep an eye on the role of the non-partisan, non-profits in their state’s politics.

The 2014 vote count reminds us that money is not a guarantee of political success. The colonel received 65% of the vote, the trophy spouse 35%. Gibson fulfilled his promise of self-imposed term limits this January when he announced his retirement after four terms. Eldridge, after admitting that he was prepared to spend whatever it took to win, promised that he would fight like a berserker to limit political money if he did win.

Perhaps Gibson’s retirement will give him an opportunity to fulfill his promise by offering a new campaign opportunity. Or he may decide on a move to Maine’s First District.


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