Whose ‘dark money’ flows from offshore accounts into Maine campaigns?

Good morning from Augusta, where I have been called out for my failure to include a soundtrack in yesterday’s Daily Brief. It’s a monster we’ve created here.

Let’s move past this right away. Today’s Daily Brief is dedicated to … well you’ll know who you are when you click here.

On to politics, where Republicans are raising red flags about a leak of information that implicates Donald Sussman, a Democratic mega donor and former husband of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, for directing a shell company in the British Virgin Islands that is used to shield his assets.

According to an article Tuesday in the conservative Washington Free Beacon, which has links to the Heritage Foundation, Sussman is the director of a company called Simply Radiant Ltd., which has several ties to Sussman’s Paloma Partners. The information was disclosed in a leak of information from a Singapore-based corporate law and accounting firm to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which calls the release of information the “Offshore Leaks,” a predecessor of the Panama Papers.

Sussman’s name was included in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ database, but tied to a previous 2013 leak of 2.5 million secret files related to 10 offshore centers. It was not included in the latest release of the Panama Papers documents, which did contain two Maine addresses — one in Auburn and one on Peaks Island.

Why does it matter?

Because Sussman is one of the top donors to Democratic causes, including millions of dollars to organizations that support Hillary Clinton’s run for president. The conflict here is that Clinton and other Democrats have long been brutally critical of companies that use offshore accounts and companies in ways that they claim harm the U.S. economy and potentially deprive the federal government of tax revenues.

Sussman is also a board member for the Center for American Progress, a group that has been critical of corporations and individuals that have been previously implicated in the leaks to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

A representative for Sussman told the consortium in 2015 that he had only a minority interest in the account in question and had no involvement in the fund’s management.

Recent Federal Elections Commission data show what we already knew about Sussman: He’s a major Democratic donor. In addition to funneling $4 million to the pro-Clinton Priorities USA Action since June of 2015, Sussman has also sent $1.5 million to the House Majority PAC, which supports Democratic candidates such as Emily Cain, a candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District who has decried dark money in politics.

“The hypocrisy of people like Chellie Pingree and Emily Cain to be saying one thing and doing another. … This type of offshore money operation is of great concern and definitely something we want to raise as an issue,” said Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage this morning. “This is textbook hypocrisy.”

This dusting off of two-year-old data is part of an ongoing narrative from both parties about the use of “dark money” in elections. In Maine, that has intensified in the rematch between Cain and Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who are on track for a record-breaking fundraising haul this year. While Cain has pounded Poliquin for the support he has received from out-of-state donors and the banking industry, her opponents have attacked her for her links to rich but anonymous donors in Hollywood. — Christopher Cousins

CLARIFICATION: This report has been updated to make clear that the information made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ database and the report by the Washington Free Beacon do not demonstrate that Simply Radiant Ltd. was used to shield revenue from U.S tax collection.

Maine Dems’ superdelegate change draws DNC vice chair’s criticism

An interesting, inside-baseball Facebook dialogue over a Maine Democratic Party amendment to “superdelegate” rules, which was adopted Saturday at the party’s convention, was making the rounds in political circles on Tuesday.

It’s a conflict that could eventually derail the change, backed by Democratic presidential underdog Bernie Sanders. His supporters oppose the party’s use of superdelegates — officials who make up 15 percent of presidential delegates but aren’t assigned to a particular candidate, unlike normal delegates.

They don’t vote until the national convention in July, but they’ve gone overwhelmingly for front-runner Hillary Clinton. Effectively, that has created a buffer adding to an air of inevitability about her nomination.

The change in Maine — where Sanders won 64 percent of votes in the March caucuses — looks to lessen their influence: Starting in 2020, it would make Maine’s five superdelegates disclose their preference by the state convention, allowing the party to reallocate the rest of the delegates according to the statewide vote. That would put all delegates in one pool, offsetting superdelegates’ influence.

But on Facebook, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley, a Democratic National Committee vice chair, accused the amendment’s backer, state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, of “misleading” people to think that superdelegates would be bound to vote for certain candidates.

This takes a bit of unpacking. He’s right that no Democratic delegates are “bound” to vote for a candidate; most are merely pledged, except for superdelegates. So, a delegate pledged to Sanders could theoretically defect to Clinton.

In essence, Maine’s change would sort of make superdelegates pledge themselves, but some of this nuance has been missed in breathless headlines on the amendment.

But has Russell misled people? At the convention, she said the change would make it so superdelegates must “vote in proportion to the popular vote of the people of Maine.” That isn’t quite accurate. It won’t force superdelegates to change votes. But offsetting them is the effect of the change, so Russell can’t be blamed too much for using shorthand to describe party machinations.

However, Maine hasn’t actually formalized this change yet. State party spokeswoman Katie Baker said it’ll require DNC approval in 2019, but the party will work to ensure it’s in compliance with national rules.

What the Buckley-Russell tiff may show is resistance to monkeying with the superdelegate rules overall. — Michael Shepherd

Correction: This item was updated to correct a reference to the amendment’s changes. It would allow the state party to reallocate normal delegates to offset the influence of superdelegates rather than reallocating their votes.

Quick hits

  • Gov. Paul LePage will be in Lincoln County today for a ceremony marking Giselaine and Paul Coulombe’s $50 million investment in the Boothbay Harbor Country Club. Coulombe has been a significant campaign donor to Republican campaigns in Maine. The country club is due to open May 20 and is touted as a source of 80 jobs in the area. LePage bought a home in Boothbay in 2014.
  • The governor held his weekly town hall forum in Oakland on Tuesday evening. He again lambasted legislators and floated the idea that he would challenge U.S. Sen. Angus King in 2018.

Reading list

Another reason to move to Canada

Are you one of the people who are pledging to move to Canada if Donald Trump is elected president? A new dating website called Maple Match will make sure your arrival north of the border is straight into the arms of your new beau or beauty.

According to Reuters, the website “makes it easy for Americans to find the ideal Canadian partner to save them from the unfathomable horror of a Trump presidency.”

Well, not that easy. Maple Match told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that there are more than 10,000 American singles on the wait list and only about 2,500 Canadians. Hey, I’m not making any comment on how desirable you are. It’s just that the math is against you.

There is no word yet of any websites that will save you from [insert your own adjectives here] of a Hillary Clinton presidency. — Christopher Cousins


Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.