As the President of Common Cause, a non-profit citizens’ lobbying group, Representative Chellie Pingree criticized lawmakers who traveled on corporate jets.
But Rep. Pingree is engaging in the same activity she derided four years ago.
An investigation by MaineWatchdog found that Pingree has been traveling on a private plane owned by the corporation of her significant other, Donald Sussman, Founder and Chairman of Paloma Partners, a billion dollar hedge fund.
When AOL reported in late July that Pingree’s office was reimbursed for more travel expenses* than any other house member in 2009, MaineWatchdog 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.”
The investigation, however, produced a video of Representative Pingree and Sussman disembarking at Portland International Jetport after a flight from Bridgeport, Conn., on September 17, 2010.
Pingree and Sussman landed in Portland at 1:26 p.m., at which point a red carpet was rolled out for them on the non-commercial apron.
A snapshot of the couple driving off confirms that Pingree was on board.
Prior to her election in 2008, Pingree was an outspoken critic of congressional members who flew on corporate 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 MaineWatchdog indicate that Pingree may have used the aircraft on several other occasions.
In several instances, Pingree’s trips between Maine and Washington, D.C. closely track the movement of Sussman’s plane.
MaineWatchdog uncovered the following facts:
On the morning of September 13, Representative Pingree visited Presumpscot Elementary School in Portland.
According to flight logs, Sussman’s plane took off from Portland International Jetport at 12:31 in the afternoon. Forty-nine minutes later, at 1:20, it landed an hour’s drive north of New York City at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY.
At 6:30 p.m., two prominent New York theater producers threw a house party to raise money for Pingree at their home in the Upper East End. The party was scheduled to end at 8:00 p.m.
At 9:22 p.m., Sussman’s plane lifted off again at Westchester County Airport in White Plains. It landed at Dulles International Airport an hour outside of Washington, D.C., at 10:17 p.m.
The next day, Sept. 14, Pingree cast two votes (HR 1571 and HR 1052) in the evening on the House floor in Washington.
On July 24, Pingree was in Brunswick with Gov. Baldacci to celebrate Kestrel Aviation’s move to Maine.
On July 26, Sussman’s plane left Knox County Regional Airport in Rockland, the closest airport to Pingree’s home in North Haven, at 12:51 pm. Pingree was on the House floor at around 6:30 to vote on HR 1320. She also appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews that afternoon.
She was in Washington for votes on July 27, 28, and 29.
On July 30, Pingree was on the House floor. The last vote of the day was at around 6:30 p.m. At 7:39, Sussman’s plane left Washington, D.C. for Rockland, Maine.
On August 6th, Pingree attended the Maine Lobster Fest Parade in Rockland.
On August 9, Sussman’s plane departed Rockland for D.C. at 2:33 pm. The next day, Pingree was present in the Oval Office when President Obama signed the $26 billion aid package for states. Sussman’s plane departed D.C. on August 10 at 7:16 pm and returned to Rockland.
At the time this article was released, MaineWatchdog was waiting for Pingree’s office to provide receipts for all commercial flights that the Congresswoman booked over the last several months.
*Editor’s Note (9/23/2010, 2:11 p.m.) The AOL story did not report that Rep. Pingree’s office was reimbursed for more travel expenses in strictly monetary terms. Several other House members were reimbursed for higher total bills. Rep. Pingree’s office was reimbursed for more individual travel expenditures than any other House member.