Since he jumped into politics with an unsuccessful gubernatorial race in 2010, Bruce Poliquin hasn’t hesitated to tell voters that he prospered on Wall Street.

Now a congressman fighting to keep his job in a tight 2nd District race against Democrat Emily Cain, Poliquin has mentioned his business background to make the case that he has the financial experience and willingness to work hard that Mainers need from their political leaders.

One of the things he’s touted a number of times is that he successfully managed pensions at Bath Iron Works during his years in the world of finance.

But some say that’s misleading.

In 1993, a year after his wife died, Poliquin left his 13-year job at Avatar Associates, where he served as vice president for client services. He said he had to put his son first and couldn’t be both a mother and father while holding such a demanding job.

In a news release from Avatar announcing the move that year, overlooked since the time, Poliquin sought to allay any worries that his departure would have an impact on the company’s work.


“I’ve never been involved in the investment process so this will have zero effect on the investment management for clients,” he said in a sweeping statement that includes the pension management Avatar carried out for employees at the Bath shipyard.

Michael Byerly, Poliquin’s campaign spokesman, said Wednesday the congressman’s words in 1993 were exactly right.

“Bruce Poliquin has never been a Wall Street banker,” Byerly said. “Never. We have said this over and over and over again.” 

Byerly said the confusion about Poliquin’s Wall Street role is the result of “millions of dollars” in attack ads by Democratic challenger Emily Cain and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that have sought to portray him as “a Wall Street investment banker.”

Anti-Poliquin television advertisements have referred to him, among other things, as “a Wall Street banker,” “a Wall Street millionaire” and “a Wall Street dealmaker.”

While Poliquin made millions and no doubt helped make some deals, he was never a banker. As Byerly put it, Poliquin “is not part of the Wall Street soup.”


“Congressman Poliquin helped manage the process, not invest the funds,” Byerly said.

Avatar at the time called itself a “tactical asset allocation management firm” and pointed out that during Poliquin’s years with the company he helped create, it saw the money it handled grow from $37 million to $4.2 billion.

Poliquin, a Waterville native from a middle-class family, attended Harvard University on a scholarship and landed a job in 1981 with Avatar in New York City. He flourished there, married his hometown sweetheart and had a son.

But after his wife and father-in-law drowned in 1992, caught together in a riptide in Puerto Rico, Poliquin gave up his fast-paced financial position and moved back to Maine to raise his young son.

When he got into politics years later, his business background became a big selling point for him.

Gov. Paul LePage, for example, plugged him for the state treasurer’s job because, he said, Poliquin “brings a special talent that this state needs. He has the Wall Street credentials to handle the state’s money.”


Poliquin’s campaigns also bragged about his financial acumen.

For example, a pair of television commercials in 2014, the year he won his congressional seat, included text read by a narrator who said Poliquin “spent decades in business, creating hundreds of jobs, managing pensions for businesses like Bath Iron Works.”

An ad this year, which included a shot of a ship under construction, mentioned that Poliquin  had been “successfully managing pensions at Bath Iron Works.”

This August, though, the wording changed slightly in one of his campaign news releases.

It quoted Poliquin as saying, “I worked hard to help successfully manage pensions for hardworking people, including Maine workers at Bath Iron Works.”

Byerly’s description of it this week takes another step back from the campaign ads’ wording. He said that “Poliquin’s company was involved in managing the pension plan at Bath Iron Works,” rather than Poliquin himself.


Client services positions such as the one Poliquin held focus mostly on developing and cultivating relationships with existing or potential clients, as well as offering plans and ideas to them. They don’t deal with investment decisions directly.

Even so, some Bath Iron Works employees blame Poliquin for what they see as a poor job by Avatar in managing the company’s pensions.

John Portela, a 42-year member of the International Association of Machinists Local S6 at Bath Iron Works, said the most important thing people should know is that the pension fund Avatar managed wasn’t up to par. It was lagging enough that it was frozen in 1994 and replaced by a new pension fund that has performed far better, he said.

Poliquin “managed our pensions in a way to rob us of a fair retirement,” another worker, Ralph Hilton, wrote in an Oct. 9 opinion column for the Bangor Daily News. “Poliquin’s management meant pathetic contributions to Bath Iron Works’ employees, and no contributions at all to those of us who were hourly. In 1994, the union said ‘Enough,’ and we switched to a new plan.” 

Glenn Burroughs, a Bath employee from Lewiston, accused Poliquin of managing “the company pension from Wall Street, making millions while sticking it to company employees.”

In a Nov. 2 column in the Kennebec Journal, Burroughs said the Avatar-run pension plan “denied workers a good retirement.”


Burroughs said Poliquin “boosted profits for the company and made millions for himself at our expense. He made enormous amounts of money — money he used to fund his political career. A lot of my friends received pensions that were barely enough to live on.”

Portela, who’s held offices in his union at various times, said that he’s eligible for $316 a month from the first frozen pension fund but can get six times that much from the one that replaced it halfway through his tenure on the job in Bath, helped along by its willingness to count his early experience toward the payment level.

Portela said, “I’m glad Mr. Poliquin no longer has any influence over my pension benefits.”

Byerly said, though, that criticism of Poliquin by the workers is off the mark.

“The union and the management at Bath Iron Works chose the pension plans,” Byerly said. “It was Congressman Poliquin’s company, Avatar Associates, which then protected the retirement plan.”

Byerly added, “This is a perfect example that the attacks against Congressman Poliquin during the past four years are not true.” 

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