WESTBROOK, Maine (AP) — Frustrated by S. Donald Sussman's bankrolling of Democrats, Maine's GOP went on the attack on Thursday, accusing the wealthy Wall Street financier of spending nearly $1.7 million this year on the Democratic Party and groups that are assisting Democratic candidates this fall.
Maine Republican Party Vice Chairman Charlie Summers cited Sussman's donations of $311,000 to the Maine Democratic Party, $400,000 provided through his Fund for America, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in other direct and indirect contributions to Democrats and liberal groups.
"Maine people don't like it when someone tries to buy an election," Summers said.
Summers said he supports Sussman's right to spend his money as he pleases, but he said it's bad for Maine. Sussman wasn't immediately available to respond, a spokeswoman said.
Arden Manning, the Democrats' Victory 2010 campaign manager, disputed the numbers and brushed aside the charges, saying Sussman is generous and the party welcomes his contributions, which began long before Sussman became engaged to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who's up for re-election.
The charges shouldn't be taken seriously, Manning said.
"This is the political silly season," he said.
An Associated Press analysis of state election figures shows that political action committees have spent $5.7 million for or against a candidate in Maine since Labor Day.
The Maine GOP said Sussman's donations have gone to Women's Voices, Women's Vote, VoteVets, Equality Maine PAC, Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund, House Democratic Campaign Committee, Citizens Who Support Maine Public Schools, Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and Pingree Leadership Fund.
At a news conference, Summers renewed claims of hypocrisy against Pingree. He noted that Pingree has no qualms about using Sussman's money, or flying in his corporate jet, even though she used to rail against the undo influence of money in politics and the use of corporate jets by members of Congress.
"She was railing against big money in politics but she's taking big money in politics," he said.
Pingree didn't immediately respond. Her spokesman, Willy Ritch, said Republicans are trying to deflect attention from her Republican opponent, Dean Scontras. "Dean and his supporters want to talk about everything but the issues, and everyone but the candidates," Ritch said.
In Maine, there are no individual contribution limits to parties or political action committees, said Cindy Sullivan of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Campaign Practices. The contribution limit to a candidate in the governor's race is $750 and the total that can be given to state candidates is $25,000, she said.
In federal races, election law limits individuals to $2,400 to a candidate committee, $5,000 to individual PACs, $10,000 to state or regional party committees, and $30,400 to national parties.
The numbers cited by the Republican Party wouldn't be noteworthy in a larger state, but they represent big dollars in a smaller state like Maine, said Mark Brewer, a political scientist from the University of Maine.
The GOP tactic of going after Sussman could sway some voters in an election season in which many people are angry at Wall Street, hedge fund managers and financiers, in general, along with the typical suspicion of big donors. "That is a big chunk of change here. It could resonate with some voters," he said.