The ‘gatekeepers’: Ten wealthy Mainers giving $3.95 million to this election
They are the elite of the elite.
They may not be one-in-a-million, but they are ten-in-a-million.
The top 10 individual Maine donors to state and national political campaigns represent just .001 percent of Maine’s adult population of about one million.
But that minuscule percentage represents 27.3 per cent of all donations to candidates, parties and causes from contributors with a Maine address.
What the elite of the elite lack in numbers they make up in dollars.
How many dollars: $3,950,236 since Jan. 1, 2013, according to state and federal campaign finance reports for the current two-year election cycle. The rest of the state’s population gave about $10.5 million.
When you look at just contributions at the federal level — U.S. House and Senate races for example – the influence from the top ten is even greater compared to their fellow Mainers: about 34 percent.
In order of their giving, most to least, the top ten are:
No. 1: S. Donald Sussman, founder of hedge fund Paloma Partners, principal owner Maine Today Media (Portland Press Herald, Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel), developer, North Haven: $2,971,741
No. 2: Ed Bosarge, former IBM and NASA scientist; co- founder of Quantlab Financial, a high-frequency trading firm, Southport: $180,000
No. 3: Paul Coulombe, former principal of White Rock Distilleries and owner of Boothbay Harbor Country Club, Southport: $162,875
No. 4: Chellie Pingree, Democratic congresswoman from Maine’s first district, Sussman’s wife and co-owner of Turner Farm, North Haven: $121,653
No. 5: Margo Milliken, early supporter of feminist causes, daughter-in-law of the late Roger Milliken, the South Carolina textile and chemicals tycoon, Cumberland: $118,200
No. 6: Cyrus Hagge, owner of Project Management, Inc., a developer with a property management company in Portland, and a major player in Portland-area civic and cultural groups, Portland: $112,650
No. 7: Daniel Hildreth, chair of the board of Portland-based Diversified Communications, Falmouth: $94,800
No. 8: Sydney Roberts Rockefeller, former wife of David Rockefeller, Jr. (son of the former president of Chase Manhattan), artist and competitive sailor, Seal Harbor: $69,094
No. 9: Stephen King, one of the best-selling American novelists of all time whose books, categorized as horror and fantasy, have often been turned into highly-successful movies, Bangor: $60,700
No. 10: Justin Alfond, president of Maine Senate, representing Portland; grandson of Harold Alfond, founder of Dexter Shoe, which was sold to billionaire Warren Buffett for more than $400 million; developer, Portland: $58,523
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, working with its national counterpart, the Investigative News Network, compiled and analyzed thousands of lines of data from the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices and the Federal Election Commission and other sources to develop the profiles of Maine’s big money players.
The data is current as of the Oct. 23 and 24 filing deadlines for federal and state candidate and committees respectively, although Federal Election Commission staff said that not all of the data in those reports was posted online because of the high volume of contributions and spending during the period. The data excludes money given by candidates to themselves.
Highlights of the examination include:
• Eight of the top ten donors are on the liberal side of the political spectrum and support Democrats almost exclusively. Of the $3.95 million, all but about $344,000 went to Democratic and traditionally liberal causes, such as the Planned Parenthood PAC that is supporting the Democratic candidate for governor, Mike Michaud, and other Democrats.
• The No. 1 donor, Sussman, gave more money than the other nine combined and then tripled: $2,971,741.
• Coming in a distant second and third are the only two Republican donors to make the list. They have a lot in common: both own estates on the Boothbay peninsula; both live there only part of the year; and both made their money in business – liquor for one; investing for the other.
• There is one married couple on the list : No. 1 Sussman and No. 4, U. S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat up for reelection. Their combined giving to Maine and national candidates exceeds $3 million: enough to buy every adult in the state a tall caffe latte at Starbuck’s and have a little left over.
• The major beneficiaries of the $3.95 million spent by the top ten on Maine state elections are: the Maine Republican Party ($340,000); the Maine Democratic State Committee ($288,808); Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund PAC ($283,600); and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee ($245,100).
• The major beneficiaries of the money recorded with the federal election officials — money spent either on the Maine or out-of-state federal seats — are: Democratic House Majority PAC ($1,350,250, with Roberts Rockefeller contributing $250 of that and Sussman contributing the rest); Women Vote!, a PAC of Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice Democrats ($150,000, all from two Sussman donations this June); and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($140,245, almost all of which came from Sussman and Pingree).
Much of the debate over campaign financing has been about giving from organizations — corporations, labor unions and interest groups. But experts in the influence of big money on politics say the public shouldn’t overlook the impact of big individual donors on democracy.
Political scientist Lee Drutman, writing for the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington-based group that advocates for open government, explained in a June, 2013 article that the top individual givers “are the political gatekeepers of American politics.”
He wrote, “They determine who is an acceptable candidate (i.e., those individuals whom they trust to represent their interests). Their influence is very rarely found in simple favor trading. Rather, their influence arises from something subtler yet far more significant: shaping the limits of acceptable political discourse, one conversation at a time.”
Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, which supports publically-funded campaigns, struck a similar tone in a report this year, “Private Money from Wealthy Contributors Dominates the Campaign” for governor.
“All of this private money threatens to drown out the voice of the people,” the report concluded, recommending that increased public financing is “the best way to combat the undemocratic influence of private fundraising from wealthy special interests.”
The big donors, though, don’t see themselves as a threat to democracy. In interviews with the Center, they cited more altruistic and ideological reasons for their giving.
“I hope that through our collective efforts, we can make Maine a better place,” said Alfond. “And I know that change doesn’t begin or end with giving; I also knock on doors, drive candidates and make phone calls. I act because we all have a responsibility to be engaged and active in our community, state and country.”
Hildreth cited global warming and a desire to be a “small counterweight to the influence on politics exerted by the conservative movement.”
Hagge also said he wanted to counter the effect of big dollars from Republicans and help “the Maine Democratic Party … regain control of the Maine state government.”
Milliken said, “I do my work with hope for an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet.”
Coulombe, one of only two of the top ten donors who supports Republicans (the other, Bosarge, did not respond to a request for an interview) said he leans that way because he believes the welfare state has gone too far. He also said he identified with Gov. LePage as an exemplar of a hard-working Mainer “and, overall, an honest individual.”
Sussman had something to say about LePage, as well: “Democrats are the ones standing up for fairness, equality, and a democracy that gives everyone a voice, and they are the ones who are going to move us beyond the mismanagement and missed opportunities of the LePage era.”
Where does all of this leave the small-time contributor?
Near the bottom of the list that Sussman tops is the name of a Raymond resident, Leo Algeo, Jr., who gave $25 this campaign cycle to independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler. The contributions of the state’s biggest donors diminish the power of his voice, Algeo said.
“Obviously, money has become the equivalent of votes,” said Algeo. “That’s a problem we have to address, and it’s difficult because the people we expect to address this problem are the people who benefit from it.”
THE TOP TEN
No. 1: Maine has its own, ‘The Donald’
Maine’s The Donald may not have the ego, the comb-over or the politics of Manhattan’s, but when it comes to being a player, our Donald is as big in Maine as Trump is in New York.
From philanthropy to politics to papers, S. Donald Sussman has the clout to claim the title, “The Donald.”
Sussman, a multi-millionaire from his high-finance hedge fund, owns the state’s largest newspaper group and is a major donor to Maine’s hospitals, cultural institutions and social service non-profits. He has served on the board of the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges and the Portland Museum of Art and was named the 2010 “Humanitarian of the Year” by Spurwink Services, which provides “behavioral health and education services for children, adults and families.”
Sussman’s political contributions in Maine dwarf anyone else’s on either end of the spectrum. His contributions to Democratic and liberal candidates and campaigns were so big this past election cycle — $2,971,741 — that they were more than three times the total amount given by the other nine people on the list.
Not only is Sussman the biggest of the big in Maine, he’s no blip on the national stage, either: He is the 16th biggest donor to Democratic and liberal federal candidates, parties, political action committees and associated organizations, according to the nonpartisan Opensecrets.org.
His gifts this two-year election cycle range from $250 to the Kennebec County Democratic Committee in Maine to $1.35 million contributed to the House Majority PAC in Washington, D.C.
In between are $100,000 to the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund, $230,000 to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and $225,000 to the House Democratic Campaign Committee; and thousands of dollars apiece to the campaigns of more than two dozen Democratic candidates for the U.S. House and Senate.
The difference Sussman makes among Democrats with his dollars may well raise the standing of his wife in the House. He’s married to Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who was just named by Opensecrets.org as the “the top lifetime contributor” among members of Congress.
Pingree has become a heavy donor to Democratic causes since she married Sussman, but the lifetime designation comes as a result of her donations being combined with Sussman’s.
Sussman told the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that he contributes to Democratic campaigns and causes because “I support candidates and organizations who fight for the things we all care about – good jobs, a solid education for our kids, clean air and water, and a family doctor for every family.”
Democrats, said Sussman, will “move us beyond the mismanagement and missed opportunities of the LePage era. This election is a chance to make a course correction and get back to building strong communities and new business opportunities so everyone in Maine has the chance to fulfill their dreams. I’m proud to invest in Democrats and in organizations that are working so hard to bring back the Maine values of community, fairness, and respect.”
Democrats aren’t the only “investment” Sussman has made that has had an effect on the civic life of Mainers.
In mid-February, 2012, Sussman threw a lifeline to the financially floundering MaineToday Media newspaper group – the Portland Press Herald, The Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel. Sussman loaned MaineToday between $3 million and $4 million dollars through Maine Values, LLC, a company he had formed just weeks before to carry out the transaction. Ultimately that loan was converted to an ownership stake.
That meant that Sussman, husband of a Democratic congresswoman and stepfather to Democratic former Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree, now owns three of the state’s seven daily newspapers, including one in the biggest city and one in the capitol.
In the old-fashioned world of journalism, media moguls with ambitions to be politically influential were common. William Randolph Hearst was one, Joseph Pulitzer was another and, nearby in New Hampshire, the Manchester Union Leader was long known as a mouthpiece for its arch-conservative owner, William Loeb.
But since the 1970s, when the growing professionalism of newsroom newcomers replaced the partisanship of the wealthy owners, independence became a cardinal virtue in journalism. So ownership of the state’s dominant media outlet by such a Democratic party bigwig, let alone one married to a congresswoman, presented the papers with a conflict of interest. That has meant they don’t write about Pingree or Sussman without also disclosing his ownership; the paper has cited this as one reason they decided not to endorse candidates in 2014 after having done so for decades.
In 2012, Maine media critic Al Diamon quoted another media critic, Bob Steele, as saying the purchase meant Sussman “has a really big target on his back.”
But, Steele told Diamon, “Ownership situations are very complex. The equation has so many elements in it. It’s always wise to scrutinize the product to make sure there’s journalistic independence, but there are usually lots of forces at play. You have to be careful how you connect the dots” between an owner’s political activities and readership.
And Sussman’s political contributions haven’t diminished since he purchased the newspaper. They’ve grown.
According to state campaign finance reports and federal reports available through Opensecrets.org, Sussman gave $2.3 million in political contributions from his Maine address during the entire 2011-12 election cycle. His donations during the current cycle, which hasn’t concluded, already total $2,971,741.
—By Naomi Schalit
No 2: Texas-sized checks from a summer resident
Say what you will about Ed Bosarge, one of Maine’s biggest individual donors to political campaigns – and the single biggest donor to Republicans – but never say, “He’s no rocket scientist.
Because he was.
The resident of Southport and Houston, Texas is a math whiz who once programmed Saturn rockets for NASA and later went on to make his fortune developing methods for managing large Wall Street investments
All of his $180,000 donations in the recent campaign reporting cycle went to the state’s Republican Party, which uses the money in legislative races to support GOP candidates and oppose Democrats, often through various forms of advertising. No other individual donor has given more to the party in the last two years.
The $180,000 doesn’t include $3,000 that Bosarge gave from his Texas address to the campaign to re-elect Gov. Paul LePage.
In the previous election cycle (2011-2012), Sunlight Foundation data show he gave $374,800 to the Maine Republican Party and $900,000 to a Texas conservative political action committee, according to the Sunlight Foundation. In 2010, he gave $500 to the campaign of independent Eliot Cutler, who came in a close second in the governor’s race and is running again.
He has also been a major contributor to national campaigns, including nearly $1 million during the 2012 election cycle to American Crossroads, which is affiliated with Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s former top political advisor.
Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that provides campaign data to the public and journalists, has reported that Bosarge is a Maine native, but that could be confirmed.
Acccording to Sunlight, one of Bosarge’s businesses, Quantlab Financial, which “makes huge numbers of automated trades, has been lobbying Congress and regulatory agencies over rules in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act since 2012 … that aims to limit risky bets that large banks can make with their own money.”
Bosarge and his wife recently listed their 27,000-square-foot Houston chateau for sale at $43 million, the priciest listing in that city’s history, according to the Wall Street Journal. Like his fellow Southport Republican donor Paul Coulombe, his home, too, has a section modeled after Versailles, the French palace.
National and local media reports characterize the Bosarges as generous philanthropists, especially to the arts, and he usually shows up on the society pages dressed in back and wearing a black beret. He is also known for his collection of antique cannons.
Bosarge could not be reached for comment.
—By John Christie
No. 3: Liquor magnate pours cash into GOP
Maine Republicans should raise a Bloody Mary to Paul Coulombe for the tens of thousands of dollars he has given their party and candidates – dollars he made selling his vodka brands to a national corporation.
A 61-year-old multi-millionaire, Coulombe is that rare bird in Maine politics: a rich guy who sides with the traditional party of businessmen.
This election cycle he has given $160,000 to the Maine Republican Party, which in turns supports GOP candidates for the legislature and opposes Democratic candidates, mostly with mailings and other forms of advertising. He also gave $2,500 to the campaign to re-elect Sen. Susan Collins and $375 to a Republican candidate for the Maine House from Boothbay Harbor, near where Coulombe lives in the summer.
Coulombe has also given from his Florida address $5,200 to Congressional candidate Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, and $5,000 to the Lincoln County GOP committee.
The Lewiston native’s wealth comes from the sale of White Rock Distilleries, the business that his family purchased in 1971, when son Paul was a teenager. According to his profile on the University of Maine site (he’s a 1975 grad and was class president) the Coulombe family “built White Rock into a major industry player through acquisitions, expansion and the development of new technologies.”
Revenue grew from $1 million to $300 million with such popular brands as Pinnacle and Three Olives vodka, and Calico Jack rum.
In 2012, the company was sold for $600 million to Beam, Inc., the whiskey maker that has since been purchased by Suntory Holdings of Japan.
Coulombe described himself “as not a true Republican … I’m a fiscal conservative but a social moderate or liberal. I think entitlements have gone too far and people who are physically able to work should do so.”
He is also “a big fan of Paul LePage,” to whom he gave $750 four years ago. “Like myself, we are hard-working Lewiston boys,” adding that the governor has had “bad press from the rags in Maine.”
Coulombe has also been in the news for his extravagant home on Pratts Island in Southport, near Boothbay, and his remaking of the Boothbay Country Club.
His island estate on six acres is almost 18,000 square feet, about 10-times bigger than the typical Maine home. A feature on his home, in Downeast magazine, was titled “Magnum Opus.” The luxurious home includes a double-arched ceiling like one Coulombe had seen in Versailles and every bedroom has its own sitting area, bar and sun porch.
The Boothbay region booster purchased the golf club there when no one else came forward, according to a report in the Portland Press Herald. He is in the process of a $30 million rehab project that includes an already-redesigned course, with a new clubhouse to come. It will replace the modest clubhouse with one 10 times as big.
—By John Christie
No. 4: Dems feast at Pingree’s ‘supper’ table
“ …string lights are draped from the rafters and a table for sixty is set with white tablecloths, mismatched china, candles, and flowers. Dinner guests, cocktails in hand, amble about the barnyard and soak up the glorious view before taking a place at the table. One of the farm managers …or perhaps Chellie Pingree herself, tells diners about the harvest and offers a toast. Then a feast … is served.”
— Downeast Magazine, May 2013
Nothing embodies the contradictions in U. S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s life better than the $85-per-person barn “suppers” served at elegant Turner Farm, which Pingree and her wealthy financier husband, Donald Sussman, own on the island of North Haven.
Pingree first came to Maine as a self-described “hippie back-to-the-lander” who plowed her energies into establishing a low-budget organic
farm in the 1970s. Now, Pingree and Sussman’s Turner Farm, which Sussman acquired in 2008, is the rusticator’s dream version of Maine dirt farming: a saltwater property with a gorgeous view, a massive barn-topped-with-a-cupola, state of the art hoop houses for growing vegetables, a goat dairy and chicken processing equipment.
Pingree’s journey from thrifty countercultural farmer to well-heeled agricultural impresario mirrors the journey she’s made as a political donor.
Pingree, a Maine state legislator from 1992 to 2000, was elected to Congress in 2008, where she has served ever since. In between, she was head of Common Cause, where she earned a national profile advocating to get big money out of politics. She brought that perspective to Congress, where she helped write the Fair Elections Now Act, which would establish a public finance system for candidates in federal campaigns. That bill was never voted on.
She’s established a reputation as an advocate in Congress for small farmers and agricultural policy reform. Fortune and Food & Wine magazines joined in naming Pingree this year one of the top “women in the food and drink world … who influence the way you eat and think about food.”
Her political contributions between 1994 to mid-2011 reflected her public stance that money should be kept out of politics, as well as her limited capacity to contribute. Pingree’s total donations to candidates running for national office during that period were $2,950.
But after that her donations skyrocketed over a very short time. From June 2011 to November 2012 — a period of only 17 months — she donated $105,600 to Democratic candidates to Congress and to the party committees that funnel donations to candidates.
“I guess what changed,” Pingree said in an interview with the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, “was I got married.”
Her marriage to Sussman in June, 2011, has allowed Pingree to quickly become one of the state’s top ten political donors.
This election cycle, she has given $121,653 so far to Democratic campaigns and candidates on both the state and federal level. That includes $67,195 in donations to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $5,200 to U. S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, $2,600 to U. S. House candidate Emily Cain and $3000 to gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud.
Asked why she had chosen to give to candidates and what she hoped to accomplish with her giving, Pingree responded:
“I’ve been a long-time supporter of public financing of campaigns and a constitutional amendment that would roll back the Supreme Court decisions that have led to unlimited corporate spending on elections. I think we need a limit on campaign spending, but in the meantime I’m going to do everything I can to elect more Democrats and bring back a Democratic majority in the House so we can pass an increase in the minimum wage, take action on climate change, reduce the burden of student debt and make the economy work for everyone.”
—By Naomi Schalit
No 5: Old Republican money put to new liberal causes
Before there was Donald Sussman, there was Margot Milliken.
Sussman has contributed $2,971,741 dollars altogether to liberal causes and candidates this election cycle, including giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to PACs that support abortion rights and women’s issues.
Sussman may be the biggest benefactor Maine pro-choice advocates count on these days. But Margot Milliken’s advocacy for women’s reproductive and economic rights in Maine and New England spans decades and has earned her the title of “Founding Mother” from one of the state’s prominent philanthropies dedicated to girls and women.
Milliken gave $118,200 to campaigns this election cycle, including $50,000 to Planned Parenthood votes, which is described by Opensecrets.org as a “liberal-leaning super PAC and 527 organization which supports abortion rights issues,” and $30,000 to the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, whose purpose is “to assist in the election of candidates who are pro-choice and pro-family planning.”
Born in 1952, Milliken came of age during the rise of feminism.
“I was part of the first generation to benefit from the doors that were opening,” she told the Maine Women’s Fund, where she served as board chair. She’s also been a longtime supporter of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Milliken’s political contributions over the last election cycle were almost entirely to Democrats: the Maine Democratic State Committee, Democratic House and Senate PACs, Shenna Bellows, Mike Michaud, Emily Cain, Chellie Pingree, with one exception — Angus King, the independent whom Democrats love to support.
Her donations to Planned Parenthood vaulted her into the top ten donors and will likely be used by the organization in its $500,000 campaign to elect Michaud and like-minded candidates to the legislature.
“I want to elect leaders who protect reproductive choice and rights, who believe in and will find solutions for climate change, and who are progressive in their values and priorities,” Milliken said.
“To paraphrase the words of the Pachamama Alliance, I do my work with hope for an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet.”
But while Milliken’s contributions on behalf of Democrats will make progressives happy, they could be making her late father-in-law turn over in his grave.
The Milliken family’s money derives from its ownership of a huge textile and chemical company, led for 71 years by Roger Milliken, Margot’s father-in-law. Among the company’s products is the substance that gives creaminess to Jell-O Pudding.
The billionaire industrialist’s 2010 obituary in the New York Times was headlined, “Roger Milliken, Conservative Tycoon, Dies at 95,” and he was well-known as a supporter of Barry Goldwater, close to arch-conservative senators Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond and for closing one of his company’s mills immediately after employees there voted to unionize.
—By Naomi Schalit
No. 6: For Hagge, being civic-minded includes politics
You could call Cyrus Hagge one of Portland’s most civically and culturally active citizens.
Or you could say he really likes going to meetings.
Hagge, a developer and property manager in Portland, has served on the boards of the Space Gallery; the Portland Downtown District; an outdoor education program for children and teens called Rippleffect; the Portland Rotary Club; Casco Bay Lines; Portland’s Planning Board, as well as its Waterfront Development and Master Planning Committee; the Cumberland County YMCA; the University of Southern Maine Foundation; the West End Neighborhood Association; and the Chebeague-Cousins Transportation Resolution Team.
Hagge is not content to spend his time and resources only on civic and cultural works. He’s also a big player when it comes to Democratic politics in Maine. In the current election cycle, he’s given $112,650 dollars, almost all of it to Maine Democrats and the state’s Democratic Party.
“Until the rules for political donations are changed, I will help to support the Maine Democratic Party from the onslaught of Republican out of state money,” wrote Hagge in an email to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. The “Citizens United ruling has made the need to raise money for the Maine Democratic Party a necessity. I hope that through these donations, the Maine Democratic Party can regain control of the Maine state government.”
Hagge gave $20,000 each to the Maine Democratic State Committee, the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and the House Democratic Campaign Committee. He’s also given $13,500 to the Alfond Business, Community and Democracy PAC, run by fellow Portland resident and Senate President Justin Alfond, a Democrat.
Democratic candidates have benefitted from Hagge’s largesse: Shenna Bellows’ U. S. Senate campaign and Chellie Pingree’s U. S. House campaign have each received $5,200 from him, while Emily Cain’s House campaign got $4,500 and Michael Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign pulled in $3,000.
And Hagge, who is also an “advisory trustee” for Maine Audubon, burnished his environmental bona fides this election cycle by giving $10,000 to the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund, a PAC dedicated to electing candidates friendly to the environment.
The PAC received much of its funding from the national organization of which it is an affiliate, the League of Conservation Voters, as well as from Donald Sussman, the Democratic donor, who gave it $100,000. So far, this election cycle the PAC has spent almost $1.3 million in its efforts to elect environmentally friendly candidates, to turn Gov. Paul LePage out of office and elect Mike Michaud.
—By Naomi Schalit
No. 7: Climate change drives Hildreth’s giving
“The biggest single reason I give political donations,” writes Daniel Hildreth in an email to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, “is my deep concern about global warming. It is a truly catastrophic threat to the global economy, to our ability to produce food and to the environment that we depend on.”
Hildreth writes that he also cares “about other issues such as health care access, increased economic inequality, and voting rights,” and has turned those concerns into big dollars for federal candidates, committees and PACs. He has given $94,800 dollars during this campaign period.
In this last election cycle, most of his contributions have been to efforts to elect Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, including those from Michigan, New Mexico, Alaska, Kentucky, Georgia, Alaska, Maine and Massachusetts, as well as to environmental PACs run by the national League of Conservation Voters and to progressive and Democratic party PACs and committees.
The remaining contributions have gone to Maine candidates, Democratic party committees and an environmental PAC.
Why spend so much more at the federal level than on political campaigns in the state where he lives and works?
“I’m hoping to provide a small counterweight to the influence on politics exerted by the conservative movement. Most of my giving is at the federal level, where my giving is small compared to the total amounts being spent. However, our most important problems can only be fully addressed at that level,” writes Hildreth.
Hildreth has also put his time where his money is, not only donating $5,200 to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, but also serving as her campaign treasurer.
Hildreth comes from a family long prominent in Maine politics and civic life. His Republican grandfather, Horace A. Hildreth, Sr., was described in his New York Times obituary as a “lawyer, broadcast executive, college president and two-term Governor of Maine” whose career “was capped with four years’ service as an Ambassador.”
His father, Horace A. Hildreth, Jr., known as “Hoddy,” is a lawyer and former Republican state legislator whose devotion to the environment has earned him the respect of, and seats on the boards of, Maine’s most prominent conservation groups, from Maine Audubon, to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The Nature Conservancy and the Maine League of Conservation Voters.
The senior Hildreth founded a family communications empire that began with the purchase of a radio station license in Bangor in 1949. That was followed by the launching of Maine’s first television station, WABI-TV, in 1953. The company now describes itself as “a family-owned company with local roots and global reach” that organizes trade shows and expositions, publishes industry journals such as National Fisherman and still owns WABI-TV in Bangor.
“Hoddy” Hildreth is former president and chairman of Diversified Communications; Daniel Hildreth is now chair of Diversified’s board of directors, where he worked for 12 years before assuming that role.
Like his father and grandfather, Daniel Hildreth has been civically active, particularly with organizations whose work focuses on state policy. He’s served as board chair of GrowSmart Maine, which is described on its website as “promot(ing) sustainable prosperity for all Mainers by integrating working and natural landscape conservation, economic growth and community revitalization” and is a donor to organizations such as Maine Audubon, the Environmental Health Strategy Center and the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy.
No photo of Hildreth was available.
Disclosure: Horace “Hoddy” Hildreth is a donor to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.
—By Naomi Schalit
No. 8: A Rockefeller, name synonymous with wealth, a player in Maine
Sydney Roberts Rockefeller married into the iconic family, prominent in U.S. politics, industry and philanthropy since the 1800s – and she’s made a name for herself as an artist, competitive sailor and big Obama supporter.
She once “spent hours in the cold volunteering for Obama,” the Bangor Daily News reported in 2009.
That was during Obama’s visit to Bangor during the 2008 primaries. Later when he was elected, she traveled to D.C. with a group of friends for the inauguration.
Roberts Rockefeller, in her seventies, a resident of Seal Harbor, is one of Maine’s biggest donors to federal and state politics, having given $47,800 to the Democratic National Committee and $6,544 to the Democratic Senatorial Committee since January 2013.
During the previous election cycle, Roberts Rockefeller was a big supporter of President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. She gave $9,012 to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fund-raising committee that supported both Obama’s re-election campaign and the DNC and $3,450 to Obama for America.
“I am speechless with hope and enthusiasm!” wrote Roberts Rockefeller on her Facebook page when he was re-elected.
In the current cycle, she’s supported the bids of Shenna Bellows for U. S. Senate and Emily Cain for Congress, donating $2,000 and $2,500 respectively. She served on the committee for a November 2013 fundraiser for U. S. Rep Michael Michaud, now running for governor. Tickets cost $50 to $500.
Like Obama, the candidates Roberts Rockefeller supports are all Democrats.
A summer resident of Maine since she was a child, she has now made Mount Desert Island her home.
A dozen Rockefellers own millions of dollars worth of property along the southern coast of the island, reported Bloomberg in 2011.
Roberts Rockefeller’s resumé of community work is long, ranging from working for more affordable housing options on the island as board of directors vice president of the Island Housing Trust to contributing to nonprofits including Maine Hospice Council, Maine Seacoast Mission and Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park.
The Island Housing Trust provided its first home ownership grant this September to a couple who had long searched for an affordable home on Mount Desert Island, reported the Bangor Daily News.
Since 1993, she has helped preserve the area’s maritime history through her work as chair of the board of directors for Great Harbor Maritime Museum. She served as chair of the Islands’ Association of Museums and Historical Societies from 2008 to 2011, working to build relations among local cultural institutions.
Roberts did not respond to a request for comments.
As an artist, her work has been featured in exhibits throughout the state, and she maintains her own private collection. She was long involved in beautification efforts in Boston, helping to redesign park benches in the 70s and working with eight other artists on a bronze sculpture of water lilies and dragonflies in Post Office Square Park.
She earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from what’s now known as The University of the Arts in Pennsylvania, where she also studied sculpture and typography, and spent time in Paris, according to her LinkedIn profile.
After working as a graphic artist with the New York City Department of Parks, Roberts Rockefeller married David Rockefeller, Jr., son of the head of Chase Manhattan Bank, a nephew of former vice president Nelson Rockefeller and great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil in the 19th Century, then the richest man in the world.
A dedicated sailor, she has raced on numerous boats over the past 60 years and owned her own sailboat since the mid-1970s, according to her biography on Acadia Senior College’s website. She’s also served as commodore of the Northeast Harbor Fleet, the yacht club where the Rockefellers — and Armour Mellon, of the family who founded Mellon Bank — dock their boats, reported Bloomberg.
—By Marina Villeneuve
No. 9: Novelist King takes ‘The Stand’ for liberals
Stephen King’s political roots go back to his days at the University of Maine, where he raised hell in the late sixties as an anti-Vietnam War activist, when he was just embarking on a writing career that would make him one of the world’s best-read novelists.
“There was a time when we did have (the ability to change the nation) in our hands, when we literally came maybe within a month, three marches, four demonstrations, three more wrong moves by the idiotic Nixon and Johnson administrations of changing this country and turning it on its ear,” said Stephen King, now 67, in October 2001 to an audience at the University of Maine.
From the Sixties, the outspoken King said his activism quickly progressed: He boycotted grapes at Bangor supermarkets to support migrant farmworkers and sat-in at a campus building where napalm-producing Dow Chemical was holding job interviews.
In doing so, he shed his Republican roots: He had supported Maine Gov. John Reed and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
His long hair and anti-war views shocked his conservative family.
“I think the impact of the activism can be overrated,” King said. “To my mind, a lot of people — even the people involved in the anti-war movement — moved to the center in politics later on.”
King surely hasn’t.
And now — thanks to the financial success of novels such as “The Shining” and “The Stand” and movies based on his books — he’s become a big Democratic donor.
Since January 2013, King has contributed $60,700 to Maine and federal politics, including $32,400 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and $10,000 each to the Maine Democratic Party and the Senate Democratic State Committee.
In the past decade, he’s given, from his Maine address, $693,685 to federal and state races, including $380,000 to the Maine Democratic Party and $124,000 to the DNC, according to the National Institute for Money in State Politics. (He has also made contributions from a New York address that have not been calculated in these totals.)
He’s shelled out money on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to tax reform, including $10,000 to support the 2012 legalization of same-sex marriage in Maine and $50,000 to No Higher Taxes for Maine PAC in 2010, which opposed repealing a Democratic tax reform package.
King actively supports Maine Democratic candidates. He’s autographed copies of his famous novels as a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Michael Michaud and has given tens of thousands to the political committees supporting candidates such as U. S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Michaud.
King backs Democratic senatorial candidate Shenna Bellows. In a recent TV campaign ad he calls her a “breath of fresh air” for her support of the working class.
“She grew up one of them, in Hancock County, as I did down in Androscoggin, where my first job was for minimum wage in the Worumbo Mill dyehouse in Lisbon Falls,” wrote King in an Oct. 21 op-ed that ran in the Portland Press Herald.
The outspoken King has received national attention for his diatribes against Republicans.
At a 2004 rally for then vice-presidential candidate John Edwards he called the Bush administration “the most dangerous and unpleasant bunch we’ve had since the Nixon years”
At a 2011 rally in Florida, King asked why rich guys like him aren’t taxed more and compared three Republican governors — Paul LePage, Rick Scott of Florida and Scott Walker of Wisconsin to “Larry, Moe and Curly,” the Three Stooges, the BDN reported.
“Now you might say, what are you doing up there? Aren’t you rich? The answer is, ‘Thank God, yes.’ Because I grew up poor,” he said. “And you know what, as a rich person I pay 28 percent tax. What I want to ask you is, why am I not paying 50?”
King attended grammar school in Durham, Lisbon Falls High School and graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with an English degree. King sold his first short story, “The Glass Floor” in 1967, and worked from 1971 to 1973 as a high school English teacher at Hampden Academy.
Since then he has published 55 novels, selling 350 million copies. Many became successful films. While known as a genre writer, he has also been recognized for his overall contribution to American letters with a lifetime achievement award by the National Book Foundation.
King and his wife Tabitha have made giving back to Maine communities a priority, and their foundation has been ranked one of the top giving foundations in the state of Maine with an estimated $3.2 million in annual gifts. They have donated substantial sums to libraries across the state, including a $3 million pledge to the Bangor Public Library in 2013 for its $9 million renovation, redesign and capital campaign.
King did not respond to an emailed request to his office for an interview.
—By Marina Villeneuve
No. 10: Alfond, scion of shoe fortune, pushes liberal causes
Maine Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland has claimed that the LePage administration is waging a “war on the poor.”
The fact that’s he the opposite – a member of one of Maine’s wealthiest families – helps him fight back.
Alfond is a grandson of the late Harold Alfond, the founder of Dexter Shoe Company, which his grandfather sold to Berkshire Hathaway for about $420 million in 1993.
Since the beginning of 2013, state records show Justin Alfond has given $58,523 in total to state and federal campaigns and committees, including $36,308 to the Maine Democratic State Committee and small amounts to the Democratic campaigns of hopefuls including Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy P. Desjardins and incumbent state Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville.
As Senate president, Alfond’s frequently been in headline-grabbing back-and-forths with the LePage administration over how to fund rural nursing homes, problems at DHHS and MaineCare expansion.
He’s also co-chair of the legislature’s Task Force to End Student Hunger.
Alfond has supported the congressional campaigns of Shenna Bellows and Emily Cain, donating $2,960 to each. Alfond contributed $3,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Michael Michaud.
He’s also given thousands to abortion rights and environmental groups, contributing $5,000 to Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund and $3,600 to Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund PAC.
A native Mainer with ties to Dexter and Waterville, Alfond comes from the wealthy family whose name is on athletic facilities across the state.
Alfond earned his bachelor’s of business administration at Tulane University and then relocated to New York City.
There, he told Old Port Magazine, he became friends with Billy Wimsatt of the League of Pissed Off Voters, who said he was looking to start chapters of the organization across the country.
Inspired, Alfond moved to Portland in 2004 to found the Maine chapter (the name was later changed to “League of Young Voters”) and led it for four years as the Maine State Director, working on initiatives like Opportunity Maine, which worked to pass a tax credit that reimburses student loan payments for those who stay in Maine after earning an associate or bachelor’s degree at a Maine school.
In 2008, he decided to run for the state senate seat in Portland.
“No one in my family has run for political office or even been too political,” Alfond told Old Port Magazine. “It wasn’t something that I grew up doing in high school.”
His charitable work includes serving on the board of directors for the New England Board of Higher Education, the New England Secondary School Consortium, Avesta Housing and Kennebec Valley Community College.
“I give to candidates and causes that I believe in to help make Maine a better place,” Alfond said. “Giving was instilled in me a long time ago by my grandfather and parents. I began giving before I was a public servant and I expect to continue long after.”
He’s also worked in real estate projects like affordable housing at 645 Congress St. in Portland and business ventures such as Bayside Bowl in Portland.
—By Marina Villeneuve
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Augusta. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org. Research assistance on this story was provided by Denise Malan of the Investigative News Network.