Maine congresswoman’s use of private jet stinks of hypocrisy, may have violated House rules

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Maine Watchdog recently posted a video of Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree disembarking from a private jet owned by her boyfriend S. Donald Sussman’s hedge fund. While some may simply be inclined to just submit to jealousy while admiring her pragmatic taste in men, if Maine Watchdog’s allegations prove true, Pingree may have not only acted hypocritically, but violated House rules.

Just four years ago, as president of the lobbying group Common Cause, Pingree testified in front of Congress in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal about the need for lobbying reform legislation to restore confidence in Congress. Specifically, she said, representatives should not be permitted to fly on corporate private jets:

“Here again, the public perception is critical. Most Americans never have and never will fly on a chartered jet, much less a fancy corporate jet complete with wet bar and leather couches. So when members of Congress constantly fly around on corporate jets and pay only the cost of a commercial ticket, it contributes to the corrosive public perception that members of Congress are more like the fat cats of Wall Street than they are like the rest of us.”

“I think the core major issue here is the hypocrisy,” said Lance Dutson, communications director of the Maine Republican Party. “In this particular race, what we’re seeing is an uncovering of a double personality, a double life.”

Pingree is currently running for reelection this year against Republican candidate Dean Scontras.

To be fair, Pingree was talking about lobbying reform in her testimony to Congress. And though her boyfriend presumably has a fair amount of access to and influence over her, he’s certainly not a lobbyist.

That said, campaign finance reports to the FEC show that at least seven employees of Sussman’s hedge fund, Paloma Partners, have given money to Pingree’s campaign. Furthermore, NPR has reported that Sussman, along with George Soros, funded the Fund for America, which existed from 2007 to 2008 as a means to raise money for “pro-democratic organizations” such as Campaign for American Progress Action Fund, ACORN, and Women Vote Action Fund. Many of those organizations are involved in lobbying.

Maine Watchdog has drawn links to suggest that Pingree used the plane for House business and in her reelection campaign, which is a violation of House rules. The site looked at the plane’s flight logs and compared where the plane flew to and from with where Pingree was — in D.C. voting, at a fundraiser in New York, speaking to children at a school in Maine, and so on. Love has been known to make people do crazier things than use the corporate jet so they can be with their significant other. But if Pingree was using her boyfriend’s corporate jet for the activities Maine Watchdog suggests, then Pingree is treading in fuzzy legal territory.

NEXT: Did Pingree violate House ethics rules?
The House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct says the use of private or corporate aircrafts is “generally prohibited,” but there is an exception if the “flight is for the personal use of the Member and is otherwise permissible on the basis of personal friendship.”

Tara Malloy at the Campaign Legal Center helped explain the House ethics rules to The Daily Caller. She pointed out that there are also exceptions to the personal friendship rule: the gift may not exceed a value of $250, but if it is private travel, then the aircraft must be owned by the individual, and not a corporation. Also,  a “flight may not be accepted on the basis of personal friendship when the primary purpose of the trip is either to conduct House business or engage in campaign activity.”

If Maine Watchdog is correct, then it seems that Pingree may have run afoul of the very rules she once lobbied to put in place.

Pingree’s office did not respond to a request for comment.