Pingree discloses finances; GOP rips ties to China businesses

Posted Aug. 16, 2012, at 7:43 p.m.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree discusses the increase in frequency and intensity of rain and snowstorms described in a new Environment Maine report Tuesday, July 31, 2012, during a news conference at Portland City Hall.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree discusses the increase in frequency and intensity of rain and snowstorms described in a new Environment Maine report Tuesday, July 31, 2012, during a news conference at Portland City Hall.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A financial disclosure statement filed Monday gives some indication of how 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s June 2011 marriage to multimillionaire hedge-fund manager and Democratic Party benefactor S. Donald Sussman increased her personal wealth.

It also provided the Maine Republican Party with fodder to accuse Pingree, a Democrat seeking a third term in Congress, of hypocrisy and Sussman of being a “Democratic string-puller.”

The report encompasses 12 pages, most of which list Sussman’s assets and income from those assets. Pingree’s report of 2010 income and assets, submitted May 13, 2011, prior to her marriage to Sussman, covered three pages and listed no outside income and only one asset.

Members of Congress must file annual reports that disclose income from nongovernment sources and information about the source, type, amount, or value of the incomes they and household members receive. Financial disclosure reports for 2011 were due May 15, but Pingree received an extension, according to spokesman Willy Ritch, who said that extensions are granted without penalty and that roughly 102 members of Congress received extensions this year.

The “assets and unearned income” category of Pingree’s disclosure statement includes four pages with 77 listings of Sussman’s holdings. The report shows that 28 separate assets are valued at more than $1 million each. Among them are real estate in Maine and other states, investment firms, biotechnology and energy companies.

That list caught the Maine Republican Party’s attention. In a release titled “The Manchurian Candidate,” Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen on Thursday cited a number of businesses on the list that he believes have links to China. Among them are Chilton China Opportunities, LP, China Aoyuan Property Group, New China Management Corp. and Cathay Investment Fund Limited.

“Clearly her priority is profiting off of her investments in China rather than casting good votes for businesses here at home,” Sorensen said in the release.

“Pingree parks her money in China, her private jet in the Virgin Islands and her political ambitions in Maine,” he said. “I think this heavy investment in China is just another example of Pingree being out of touch with the average Mainer.”

“This is a partisan political story that they’re trying to generate,” Ritch said Thursday in response to the release. “Republicans have policies that aren’t popular in this district, so they want to create a distraction.”

Sussman’s portfolio includes “a wide range of investments, some in other countries, but quite a few in Maine,” Ritch said. “Nobody should question [Pingree’s] or [Sussman’s] commitment to Maine.”

Sussman owns revenue-generating rental properties in Portland, according to the report, which also lists properties in Brooksville, Saco, Deer Isle and Augusta as assets.

Pingree’s opponent in this year’s 1st District U.S. House race is Springvale Republican Jon Courtney, majority leader of the Maine Senate. When asked Thursday about Pingree’s financial disclosure statement, Courtney said, “There’s a lot to it. I don’t profess to understand her investments. I’ll leave that for the experts.”

Filers aren’t required to specify exact amounts of income or values for assets. Instead, they report ranges of income or value. Reporting requirements for spouses and children are less rigorous than for members of Congress.

The only earned income Pingree’s latest disclosure statement lists is an undisclosed amount for Sussman from Trust Asset Management LLP, an investment firm.

Pingree did not list any outside earned income for herself in 2011.

As unearned income, she listed interest of between $201 and $1,000 on a JP Morgan Chase Bank asset valued at between $1 million and $5 million.

As was the case in 2010, she listed Nebo Lodge, an inn and restaurant on North Haven, as an asset of between $500,001 and $1 million. For both 2010 and 2011, Pingree identifies herself as an officer of Nebo Lodge, but she reports receiving no income from the lodge.

The disclosure statement lists partnership income, rent, dividends, capital gains and “other” as types of “unearned income” derived from Sussman’s assets.

Earlier this year, Sussman became the majority shareholder of Maine Today Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Waterville Sentinel, among other publications. The disclosure report filed Monday does not reflect that transaction, which occurred after the reporting period.

On the disclosure statement, Pingree answered “no” to questions about whether she or a family member had received reportable gifts or travel reimbursement worth more than $350 from one source in 2011. During the 2010 campaign, Republicans made an issue of her use of Sussman’s private plane while the two were engaged.

Sussman is a longtime contributor to Democratic election campaigns. In July, the Washington Post reported that Sussman already has donated $1 million to support Democrats running for U.S. House seats this year.

Pingree was first elected in 2008, defeating Republican Charlie Summers, who is now Maine’s secretary of state and the GOP’s candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. Pingree defeated Republican Dean Scontras to win re-election in 2010. Before running for Congress, she served as president of Common Cause, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for open government and campaign finance reform.

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