WASHINGTON—Rep. Barney Frank's Republican opponent says the Massachusetts congressman's private jet ride to the U.S. Virgin Islands, courtesy of a hedge fund manager, shows Frank is too cozy with the financial interests he oversees.
Frank, a 15-term Democrat, faces a stronger-than-expected re-election fight against GOP challenger Sean Bielat, who is targeting Frank's role in dealing with the financial crisis.
Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, shepherded through the House the Wall Street bailout and one of the most far-reaching financial regulatory reform laws in the nation's history.
Bielat, a Marine Corps reservist making his first run for office, said that while the trip may have been legal, it was wrong.
"Frank has pushed bailouts for his corporate friends and operates on a different set of rules from the rest of us," Bielat said Wednesday. "After 30 years of it and an economy that doesn't work for ordinary people, voters are saying enough is enough."
The Boston Herald reported Wednesday that the jet was provided by S. Donald Sussman, founder and chairman of Paloma Partners. The investment firm in Greenwich, Conn., manages more than $1.7 billion in funds. Sussman, a Democratic donor, is the fiance of Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine.
Frank told the Herald that he's backed legislation to crack down on hedge funds.
Frank and his partner, Jim Ready of Maine, traveled with Sussman and Pingree on a 2009 vacation trip from Portland, Maine, to the Virgin Islands, where Sussman owns property. Frank spokesman Harry Gural said the two couples have known each other socially for some time and that Frank cleared his trip beforehand with House ethics officials.
"He totally disclosed it to make sure he was absolutely appropriate about it," said Gural, adding that the trip came after the Wall Street bailout legislation had passed.
Frank reported the trip in his House financial filings and valued the flight at $1,500.
Sussman's net worth is vast, and his holdings include real estate in the Virgin Islands, New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as in Maine.
Invoking Scott Brown's stunning win to capture the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat, Massachusetts Republicans say that while Bielat faces an uphill climb, he could benefit from an energized GOP, voter frustration with the ailing economy and a strong anti-incumbent mood.
Frank defeated a Republican foe by a wide margin in 2008 and did not have a GOP opponent in the three previous elections.