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Republicans rip Pingree for excluding Sussman from financial report

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree speaks during a debate at the WGME studios in Portland on Oct. 6, 2014.

Maine’s 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has filed her financial disclosure report for 2014, nearly four months after the original May 15 deadline.

Pingree, a Democrat, filed the report Tuesday but excluded any financial information about her billionaire husband and Wall Street hedge fund manager, S. Donald Sussman, whom she is divorcing.

Pingree issued a statement Tuesday announcing that she and Sussman plan to end their three-year marriage.

The House Ethics Committee allows a member to exclude the financial data of a soon-to-be ex, but the leader of Maine’s Republican Party said Pingree should release the data because she is technically still married to Sussman and took votes in the House while she was.

“Rep. Pingree’s marital problems are certainly regrettable; however, we feel that she owes the people of Maine real transparency as it relates to her votes and authority as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, while having hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in the United States and around the globe,” Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett said Wednesday.

“We urge Rep. Pingree to fully disclose her finances so the people of Maine can see where her money was invested and how her votes were cast,” Bennett said. “The people of Maine deserve transparency, and Rep. Pingree has built a political career claiming to support transparency. We fully expect she will do the right thing.”

Maine Democrats, however, said Bennett and other Republicans were piling on and making more of Pingree’s disclosure and Sussman’s wealth than was appropriate or necessary.

“The Maine Republican Party’s relentless attacks against Congresswoman Pingree and her family are getting old,” said Rachel Irwin, spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party. “Rep. Pingree’s office has followed the rules and filed her financial disclosure form accordingly. The Maine GOP should be ashamed of themselves for trying to score political points and exploit Rep. Pingree’s personal family matter during this difficult time.”

The financial disclosure reports, which reflect sources of outside income for members of Congress, are meant to promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interests for elected officials.

In her report filed Tuesday, Pingree lists two sources of outside income. Both appear to be interest-yielding bank accounts and neither account earned more than $1,000 in 2014.

The report is in sharp contrast to Pingree’s disclosure filed in 2014, which showed dozens of real estate and stock transactions that yielded income for Sussman. Many showed returns of more than $1 million in profits.

Pingree’s 2012 report, the first she filed after marrying Sussman, included four pages with 77 listings of Sussman’s holdings, including 28 separate assets valued at more than $1 million each. Among them were real estate in Maine and other states, investment firms, biotechnology and energy companies.

The report filed Tuesday aligns much more closely with the one Pingree filed in 2011, before she married Sussman.

Willy Ritch, a spokesman for Pingree, said Wednesday that the congresswoman was following the advice and guidance of the Ethics Committee in excluding Sussman’s financial information in her 2015 report, which covers income for all of 2014.

“If they were separated with the intention of getting a divorce at the time of the filing, then they do not have to disclose the spouse’s information,” Ritch said, “even if they were not separated for the [entire] filing period.”

Ritch said Pingree’s disclosure includes all of her personal assets and none of Sussman’s. The millions of dollars in investments called into question by Bennett are Sussman’s investments, not Pingree’s, Ritch said.

In April, Pingree requested and was granted a 90-day extension on filing the report and then took another 30-day grace period when she missed the second deadline in mid-August.

In the prepared statement issued Tuesday, Pingree said she needed the extra time to file the disclosure so she could notify family and friends of the impending divorce.

Under the rules of the House, members of Congress and their immediate spouses and children must disclose a non-specific range of the profits they made from selling assets such as stock and real estate during the previous year.

The Ethics Committee allows a near-instant, 90-day extension of the filing deadline, and the committee’s rules allow members another 30-day grace period on the final deadline before they face a $200 late-filing fine.

Members can face a $200 fine for each financial transaction they fail to disclose or disclose after the deadline, but the system has largely been panned by transparency advocates as the “foxes watching the henhouse.”

“Usually, there’s lots of weak enforcement of the ethics rules we do have, and something like personal financial disclosures, that’s one of the bedrock disclosures we have to help prevent corruption,” said John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation. The nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation is one of the country’s top advocates for open government.

He said he couldn’t speak specifically to Pingree’s financial disclosures but noted the disclosure forms required in Congress are “pretty terribly insufficient.”

The broad ranges of income are categorized in such a way that it’s difficult to discern how much any member made or lost on financial transactions outside Congress.

Earlier this year, Pingree paid a $9,750 fine to the Federal Elections Commission for accepting rides between Washington and Maine on Sussman’s private jet prior to their marriage and during her 2010 re-election campaign without reporting the value of the rides as campaign contributions. She also reimbursed Sussman $13,000, the estimated value of the flights.

The House Ethics Committee, the same one that oversees the financial disclosure reports, found no ethical wrongdoing on Pingree’s part for the airplane rides, essentially suggesting Sussman was family, despite the fact that the couple had not yet married.

A 2012 Sunlight Foundation report, ” Stealthy Wealthy: Donald Sussman, Rep. Pingree make strange bedfellows,” details various campaign contributions made to Pingree from Sussman’s workers, including his chef, housekeeper, a pair of pilots and a chauffeur.

The Ethics Committee rules require members to report gifts they receive valued at more than $350. Pingree’s disclosure report for 2014 shows she did not accept any gifts valued at more than $350.

Pingree reported she received no income from the Nebo Lodge Inn and Restaurant on North Haven Island, a property on which Sussman still holds a $2.47 million mortgage, according to the Knox County Register of Deeds.

 



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