U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, immersed in one of the toughest political fights of his career, took a free private jet to the Virgin Islands courtesy of a Maine congresswoman’s billionaire fiance — whose company received a $200 million federal bailout, the Herald has learned.
Frank, who’s facing feisty Republican challenger Sean Bielat, flew to the tropical paradise for a vacation in 2009 on a $25 million jet owned by Paloma Partners honcho S. Donald Sussman, the fiance of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine). Paloma Securities — a subsidiary of Sussman’s Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund — received $200 million in 2009 as part of the $180 billion federal bailout of troubled insurance giant AIG, records show.
Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said his partner, Jim Ready, lives in Pingree’s district and the couples are “personal friends.”
“She and I have become friendly and they invited us to the Virgin Islands and I checked with House ethics (officials) and they gave it the OK,” Frank said. “It was purely personal.”
Republican National Committee spokesman Parish Braden said: “Barney Frank’s acceptance of a lavish gift from a hedge fund manager, an industry he is responsible for regulating, is a troubling conflict of interest that raises serious questions about his judgment.”
Bielat added: “Typical. Barney keeps showing how career politicians work — they use our dollars for their favors. It may be legal, but it’s wrong and that’s why we need a change.”
Frank called the GOP criticism “nonsense” and said he has backed legislation to crack down on hedge funds.
“I’ve never talked with him about any favorable treatment,” he said of Sussman. “I voted to raise his taxes. That’s one of the most backwards things I’ve ever heard. I’ve taken the anti-hedge fund position.”
Frank, who voted for the bailout in October 2008, took the trip around Christmas 2009. He reported the trip in required House financial filings and valued the flight at $1,500. He originally listed the trip vaguely as “first class round trip travel by private aircraft” in a congressional filing in May. In July, he amended the report to show he traveled from Portland, Maine, to the Virgin Islands. He called the discrepancy a “clerical error.”
Sussman, a huge Democratic campaign donor with homes in Maine and Connecticut, lives in St. John, Virgin Islands. Spokespersons for Sussman and Pingree declined to comment. Pingree also is facing criticism from the Maine GOP for using Sussman’s jet.