Billionaire, lobbyists pay off Janet Mills’ unpaid inaugural debt, Mills hit with fine

Left: Governor Janet Mills. Right: Billionaire hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman with his wife at the time, Rep. Chellie Pingree.

AUGUSTA – A billionaire hedge fund manager swept in to pay Janet Mills’ inauguration committee enough to mostly retire the remaining debt for her extravagant inauguration event in January. The nearly yearlong ordeal that has left Mills in persistent violation of a state law enacted by her own political allies is drawing to a conclusion.

A fourth supplemental report provided by Mills’ committee to the Maine Ethics Commission last week shows that hedge fund billionaire S. Donald Sussman paid the committee $43,000 in late November. Sussman is well known in Maine for his marriage to Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, ownership of Maine Today Media and his position as the largest donor in Maine politics for years.

Earlier this year, Sussman reportedly received a grand jury subpoena in a federal investigation into Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, possibly related to an ongoing corruption probe. An article published last Thursday by the Tallahassee Democrat, a newspaper affiliated with USA Today, mentioned Sussman and said Gillum’s organization has racked up massive legal fees in dealing with the investigation.

Along with Sussman’s $43,000, the report shows Mills’ committee received $5,000 from lobbying firm Bernstein Shur and $10,000 from Jay Cashman, a wealthy Boston based construction mogul. One of Cashman’s companies, Patriot Renewables, oversees a half dozen wind farms and the company website says it operates four wind projects in Maine. Patriot Renewables also employs several lobbyists in the Maine Legislature, according to the Maine Ethics Commission’s lobbyist disclosure portal.

In the final report, the donations from Sussman, Cashman and Bernstein Shur represent 94% of the total money raised to pay off Mills’ debt.

A September report filed by Mills’ committee shows that The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades cut Mills a check in late August for $25,000 and the Maine Democratic Party gave Mills’ committee $35,000 in late September.

The $35,000 from the Maine Democratic Party appears to have been the result of a contribution to the party on the same day (September 24,, 2019), for the same amount, from the Democratic Governors Association. That contribution can be found on the Maine Democratic Party’s October Quarterly Report.

The Democratic Governors Association, according to Open Secrets, is heavily reliant on donations from large corporations such as big tobacco, insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

It’s an interesting paradox for Mills, whose Democratic Party relies on loudly condemning hedge-fund billionaires, lobbyists and the corporate interests now bailing her out of what had appeared to be an almost intractable bind.

The changes to state law that landed Mills in hot water actually came about as the result of a 2015 referendum to supposedly “get money out of politics” by tightening campaign finance laws and injecting more public funds into the system. Groups supporting that referendum included Maine Clean Elections and the Maine People’s Alliance.

The Maine Ethics Commission could have hit Mills with a fine of as much as $10,000 but opted to issue a fine of $2,000.

Mills’ committee said the final invoice they received from the Augusta Civic Center was nearly $200,000, which was about $63,000 higher than they had expected. News reports covering the story in May indicated Mills still owed the city of Augusta about $120,000. Her committee has been working throughout the year to pay down the debt.

Sources:

Janet Mills Inaugural Committee Fourth Supplemental Report
Patriot Renewables Wind Power Projects
Janet Mills’ Inaugural Committee Third Supplemental Report
Maine Democratic Party October 2019 Quarterly Report
Open Secrets Democratic Governor’s Association Top Donors
Andrew Gillum’s legal bills soar amid federal probe
Federal subpoena demands records of Andrew Gillum, others

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