The Corner

Maine Congresswoman Caught Private-Jetting

Maine Watchdog’s Stephan Burklin has a great story today reporting that Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., ME-1), the former CEO of Common Cause, and vocal foe of lawmakers flying in corporate jets, is herself a regular practitioner. The investigation found that Pingree has been traveling on a private plane owned by the firm of her significant other, Donald Sussman, Founder and Chairman of Paloma Partners, a billion-dollar hedge fund. The story is accompanied by a recent video of Pingree deplaning Sussman’s big bird at Portland’s airport.

When AOL reported in late July that Pingree’s office was reimbursed for more travel expenses than any other house member in 2009, Maine Watchdog asked whether any of those reimbursements were related to travel on private planes. A spokesman for Pingree said: “To my knowledge, the Congresswoman does not fly on privately chartered jets.”

According to written remarks delivered before the Subcommittee on the Constitution in 2006, Pingree said:

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.

In the aftermath of the Abramoff scandal, Pingree lobbied for a tough ethics-reform law that would have, among other things, completely banned privately funded travel. When a weaker bill was introduced, Pingree called the drafted bill “window dressing.”

It is not clear whether Pingree’s use of Sussman’s aircraft was limited to the incident on September 17. Flight logs of Sussman’s plane obtained by Maine Watchdog indicate that Pingree may have used the aircraft on several other occasions.

Pingree is being challenged this November by Republican Dean Scontras, who in an early September PPP poll of likely voters trailed the incumbent by only nine points.

UPDATE 1: The Waterville Morning Sentinel reports Pingree’s winging may have violated House rules:

The flights may be afoul with House ethics rules, according to a summary of the travel rules found on the website for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

“While expenses for officially-connected travel may be accepted, members and staff may not accept expenses from a private source for travel the primary purpose of which is to conduct official business,” the website summary says. “Clauses 1-3 of House Rule 24 prohibit the acceptance of private support – both monetary and in-kind – for official House activities. Thus, when the primary purpose of a trip is to conduct official business, such as general oversight activities within a committee’s jurisdiction, the expenses must be paid with official House funds.”

UPDATE 2: Dean Scontras comments in a press release:

“Plain and simple, this is the sort of thing Mainers are tired of — hypocrisy in our elected officials. I continually hear the same refrain across the district: ‘Congress is out of touch’.”

“There is a reason why Congress has record low approval ratings,” Scontras continued. “It is their ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality. Congress spends millions of taxpayer dollars on bottled water, flowers and travel – while average Mainers are worried about how they will heat their homes this winter. I will continue to travel the state like most Mainers – in my hundred-thousand mile car with the same message of fiscal responsibility.”

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