Politics and Other Mistakes: Flavors of entanglement

7 mins read

Dear S. Donald Sussman:

Please send me a million bucks.

In return for your generous donation, you’ll own me and all my opinions.

I know you’re wondering why you – the founder of a $2-billion off-shore hedge fund called Paloma Partners, as well as one of the country’s biggest contributors to philanthropic and political causes and a major player in several Maine campaigns – would want to pay off the mortgage of a snarky columnist who almost never agrees with you. Why pad my retirement account, fill up my gas tank and settle my bar tab, when, for less than I’m asking, you could probably buy the loyalty of every editorial-page editor in the state, enough bloggers to crew your yacht and more TV reporters than it takes to start your own network?

The reason: You’ve made a habit of giving money to your opponents. Maybe that’s because you’re a generous guy. Maybe it’s sloppy bookkeeping. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to pull strings on both sides of any debate. Whatever it is, there’s plenty of precedent for turning me from just another guy who disagrees with you into just another rich guy who disagrees with you.

Consider, as you laze about your retreat on Deer Isle or another of your Maine properties, the interesting dichotomies you’ve created.

Between 1998 and 2002, one of your political action committees, the Fund for Maine’s Future, gave $56,000 to the state’s Democrats and $46,000 to Republicans.

In 2000, as part of a successful effort to kill legislation regulating hedge funds, you handed out $100,000 to Dems in Congress and $50,000 to members of the GOP.

You’ve been a lavish backer of independent Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, possibly because some of your business interests are headquartered in Greenwich, Conn. But you’ve been even more generous to the Campaign to Defend America, donating $1 million to that PAC for ads attacking Lieberman’s choice for president, Republican John McCain.

And speaking of the presidential race, you’ve contributed to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, not to mention Bill Richardson.

Back in Maine, you, your family and your associates have donated at least $125,000 to Democrat Chellie Pingree’s current campaign for Congress in the state’s 1st District. But you also gave $250 to one of her primary opponents, Ethan Strimling, under your rarely used first name of Selwyn. (I can understand why its use is rare.) Strimling returned the check, citing his policy of refusing contributions from people with funny names.

In 2002, you told the Bangor Daily News you invested big bucks in Maine politics (in addition to Pingree’s various runs for office, you’ve been a major backer of the anti-gambling group CasinosNo!, the chief contributor to Green Party honcho Jonathan Carter’s attempts in the 1990s to ban clearcutting, and you’re currently the financial force behind the PAC seeking to preserve higher taxes on beer, wine and soda to fund the Dirigo health-care program) because you want to “save Maine for the people of Maine.”

I’m not sure how stopping us from drinking, gambling, cutting trees or electing Republicans accomplishes that, but maybe I’m confused because I’m too impoverished to see the big picture. You could fix that with one seven-figure check.

I picked a million as the appropriate amount, because over the years, you and your posse have given Pingree nearly half-a-million dollars in soft and hard cash. I’m at least twice as funny as she is, so I deserve double her take.

Here’s the way I figure your involvement in Maine politics. Most years, you spend a couple of summer months in the state (although it seems as if you’re here more when Pingree is running for something), retreating to your official residence in the Virgin Islands before snow and seasonal layoff notices fly. But while you’re visiting, the weather is nice. The natives are employed catering to the wealthy tourists. The place seems idyllic. You want to keep it that way, even though it wasn’t like that to begin with.

So, you underwrite environmental groups, public land purchases and a vegan cafeteria at Skidmore College. (That last one has nothing to do with Maine, but it still freaks me out.) You promote the idea of a huge national or state park in the northern Maine woods. You buy the favors of any politician who might be useful in blocking the kinds of changes that a guy who’s only here one-sixth of the time wouldn’t want to see, even if those of us who are here all the time like the idea.

That makes the locals resentful. They spit in your lobster bisque. They jack up prices on the genuine antiques they make in their barns. They ride their snowmobiles through your front yard and crush your shrubbery.

One way to alter those attitudes is bribes. Works on pols. Why not on normal people? Share the wealth with somebody besides Pingree and the Sierra Club.


Your (potential) pal,

Even if Selwyn pays up, I’ll still read your e-mails sent to aldiamon@herniahill.net. Or I’ll hire someone to do it.

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