“Four years ago, Chellie Pingree ran and stated she was going to Washington to take the money out of politics. Just this year my opponent has already spent more than $400,000 with no primary opposition.”

— From a Jon Courtney For Congress ad

Sorry, not quite true.

Pingree has indeed spent more than $400,000, but Federal Election Commission reports show she did it over the last 18 months, not “just this year.”

Perhaps more than most politicians, Pingree has had a complicated career when it comes to campaign finance. On one hand, she has worked to take big money out of politics.

On the other hand, she’s good at raising money and is married to S. Donald Sussman, one of the nation’s top donors to Democratic causes. Sussman is also the principal owner of MaineToday Media, publisher of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and other media outlets.

First, we’ll examine Pingree’s background as stated by Courtney, the Republican state senator from Springvale challenging her. Then we’ll proceed to the details of Pingree’s campaign spending thus far, which Courtney misconstrues a bit.

In Pingree’s successful House races in 2008 and 2010 combined, her campaigns outraised her Republican general election opponents by more than $2.3 million. As of June 30, she had outraised Courtney by more than $727,000.

And in 2002, when she unsuccessfully ran against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, she raised $3.9 million to Collins’ $4.3 million, according to a 2008 Portland Press Herald article.

After losing the Senate election, Pingree was tapped to become president of Common Cause, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that lobbies for open government and has championed campaign finance reform since its inception.

According to the 2008 Press Herald story, Pingree moved Common Cause toward a “push for public financing of state elections, rather than trying to plug gaps in federal law.”

Early in the 2008 campaign, Pingree wrote a piece for the Huffington Post in support of the Voters First pledge, which she signed that year.

By signing it she promised to support public financing for federal elections.

“Like other candidates running for federal office, I have to spend far too much time on the telephone raising money,” Pingree wrote then. “I can’t speak for the others, but I know I’d rather spend that time talking to the people of Maine about the very real and very serious challenges we face.”

So whether you see her stance on campaign finance and skill at raising money as a contradiction or a reasonable response to a necessary evil, it’s clear Pingree has been a supporter of stronger regulation of campaign finance.

She also has backed campaign finance reform in the House, co-sponsoring the Fair Elections Now Act. That bill would establish a voluntary system for funding congressional elections, limit campaign contributions to $100 and match contributed funds 5-to-1 with federal money. The latest incarnation of the bill was referred to committee in 2011 and GovTrack.us says it has a zero percent chance of being enacted into law.

As to Courtney’s more pointed claim, that Pingree has spent more than $400,000 without a primary opponent, he is not correct that she did that “just this year.” That figure represents her spending for the entire election cycle — back to January 2011.

The Federal Election Commission’s page says her campaign has spent more than $424,000 in operating expenditures between Jan. 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. If you break the data out by year, just under $276,000 of that was spent last year.

Verdict: Courtney is right about Pingree’s stance on campaign finance. If not for the “just this year” piece, Courtney would be right on the money with his claim about her spending so far. Since that connotes about a half-year’s worth of spending, we’ve got to downgrade him a tad. 

We rate this statement mostly true. 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

[email protected]

 

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