A political action committee, or super PAC, funded by Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, and Michael Bloomberg, among others, is spending more than a half-million dollars to promote the election efforts of Jason Church in the seventh congressional district Republican primary, a Lakeland Times investigation shows.
The super PAC, With Honor Fund, proclaims its mission is to elect more veterans to Congress, which it says is key to ending gridlock and partisan bickering, but the PAC has been accused in some conservative circles of being a Democratic Party front group.
Critics say even some of With Honor's GOP-supported candidates track to the Left, sometimes after declaring support for conservative principles during their election campaigns, while other candidates are liberal Democrats who are hardly bipartisan.
Meanwhile Church, who has repeatedly declared he will help President Donald Trump "drain the swamp," has himself donated to the political campaign of a liberal Democrat who voted to impeach the president, U.S. Rep. Max Rose of New York, whom With Honor also supports.
The left-leaning Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post as well as of Amazon, has given more than $10 million to fund the With Honor Fund super PAC, while Bloomberg, the Democratic presidential candidate and anti-gun rights crusader, has kicked in a quarter of a million dollars. Schultz, the owner of Starbucks, has given $50,000.
In turn, as it has on behalf of other candidates, the With Honor PAC is spending heavily on behalf of Church in the congressional race. While it made only a small donation of $2,500 directly to Church's campaign as of Dec. 19, according to the fund's campaign finance filings with the Federal Election Commission, it has spent more than $500,000 in independent expenditures for Church, while giving $100,000 more to Americans 4 Security, a political action committee whose sole purpose has been to support Church's bid.
With Honor Fund gave Americans 4 Security PAC $50,000 on Jan. 23 and another $50,000 on Jan. 29. In turn, Americans 4 Security paid $100,000 to Media Ad Ventures on Feb. 7 for media buys and ad production on behalf of Church.
The With Honor Fund itself paid Media Ad Ventures $252,000 on Jan. 17 for media placement and ad production to promote Church, as well $29,264 on Feb. 3 for ad production; $40,000 for media placement on Feb 3; and another $207,000 for media placement on Feb. 7.
All totaled, as of Feb. 7, the PAC reported spending $528,264 on behalf of Church's candidacy, not including the direct donation to Church's campaign and not including the $100,000 funneled to Americans 4 Security.
What is With Honor Fund?
The question is, what is the With Honor Fund, really?
On its website, With Honor describes itself as a "cross-partisan movement dedicated to promoting and advancing principled veteran leadership in elected public service."
For too long, the group states, gridlock and partisan bickering have plagued Congress, and it believes the way to break that gridlock is to elect a new generation of veterans that has stepped up to serve again.
"As a part of our overall effort to highlight the importance of veterans and veteran issues, we support principled military veterans in Congress and help amplify their cross-partisan agenda that finds solutions for the American people," the With Honor website states.
Its vision, the website states, is a "less polarized government that works for and is trusted by Americans where elected officials serve with integrity, civility, and courage."
But some in the conservative movement say it's a Democratic front group, as the website ConservativeIntel accused the group of being last October, and that a cross-partisan agenda really means Republicans agree to support Democratic policies.
Certainly many of With Honor's donors and its team have left-leaning track records.
Bezos, for instance, besides owning the liberal Washington Post, has given mostly to Democratic candidates over the years, including to Washington senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
Bezos has supported Republicans, too, but they have mostly hailed from the liberal or moderate wing of the party or have roots in the Democratic Party, such as former New Jersey governor Meg Whitman, who endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has compared President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, and Jason Chaffetz, who migrated from Left to Right and from Democrat to Republican.
Bezos has also joined Whitman and Bill Gates in an initiative called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, whose proclaimed mission is to fight climate change by reducing net carbon emissions to zero.
On the other hand, he has supported Republican Cory Gardner, the senator from Colorado, who is ranked as the fifth most likely to co-sponsor non-Republican legislation, but who has also supported the Trump administration almost 90% of the time.
Howard Schultz, who flirted with the idea of running for president this year as a centrist independent, nonetheless has long supported Democrats. According to opensecrets.com, Schultz and his wife have contributed around $193,000 to Democratic candidates and organizations since the early 1990s, including donations to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.
Bloomberg has more left-wing ties and positions than Bezos or Schultz. The former mayor of New York is particularly famous for organizing Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
As a 2020 presidential candidate, he has vowed to reinstate the federal ban on certain semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15 and high-capacity magazines. He also supports requiring every gun buyer to obtain a permit before making a purchase and requiring point-of-sale background checks on all gun purchases.
Bloomberg would institute a new age limit of 21 for those wishing to buy handguns, semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and require a mandatory 48-hour waiting period for all gun purchases. He also supports red-flag laws and says he would appoint a gun coordinator "to mobilize the public to fight gun violence and launch an interagency hub to fight gun violence."
With Honor Action is also loaded with Democratic Party operatives. For example, its executive director, Ellen Zeng, was formerly the deputy political director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a coordinator for the Terry McAuliffe for Governor of Virginia campaign.
Zeng also serves as the political director of the With Honor Fund.
With Honor's advisory team includes Matt Flavin, who served on Barack Obama's presidential transition team, and Erskine Bowles, a Democrat who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff.
On the Republican side, the advisory board includes Tucker Eskew, who worked for President George W. Bush and the John McCain presidential campaign.
In its short history, the With Honor Fund has given about equally to Republican and Democratic candidates.
Those candidates include bona fide conservatives such as Texas U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw and others, but conservative critics say many of the Republican recipients are suspect.
Perhaps none is more controversial than With Honor's support of Brian Mast of Florida, who was first elected in 2016 and whose campaign and background are strikingly similar to that of Church's.
Like Church, Mast is a military veteran who was seriously wounded in Afghanistan, losing both legs in an IED explosion. Like Church, he campaigned for Congress as a strong Second Amendment supporter, who touted an "A" grade from the NRA.
Mast has endorsed Church in the seventh congressional district race - an endorsement Church has embraced.
"Jason Church's commitment to serving our country and to conservative values is needed in Washington, DC.," Mast said in his endorsement. "Now more than ever, we need those who value our country more than political aspirations to be standing up for the American people."
Church says Mast's support means a lot to him.
"Like Brian, I needed to find a way to serve my country after my injuries," Church said. "I will always stand up for conservative values, defend our national security, and support those who have served our country with honor."
But many critics say Mast himself has not supported those conservative values. By 2018, after the Parkland school shooting, for instance, he had reversed his positions on gun rights. He now backs federal background checks on all gun purchases, including private transactions, as well as a ban on semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15.
The NRA now gives Mast an "F" rating.
In addition, according to the firm Quorum Analytics (QA), after a year in office, Mast co-sponsored Democratic legislation at a higher rate than all but three Republican House members. According to QA, he co-sponsored 123 bills in the 115th Congress, including 37 - or 30% - that were sponsored by Democrats.
Other conservatives have raised concerns about Mast's ties to leftist environmental organizations, including speaking at an event last February sponsored by the left-wing Center for Biological Diversity, which, as of Feb. 5, has sued the Trump administration 189 times.
In 2017, too, Mast supported a resolution by moderate Republicans calling for urgent action on climate change, saying that "if left unaddressed, the consequences of a changing climate have the potential to adversely impact all Americans."
"It's important that we take climate change very, very seriously because the threats that are posed by that are very serious," Mast told The Atlantic in 2017. "I'm just not a person that believes we should be turning a blind eye to it."
The resolution cited increasing "significant weather events and environmental disruptions, longer and hotter heat waves, more severe storms, worsening flood and drought cycles, growing invasive species and insect problems, threatened native plant and wildlife populations, and rising sea levels" and called for urgent action by Congress to "support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact."
None of which is to say the With Honor Fund 's donors always speak with one voice. With Honor has supported conservatives such as Crenshaw, and the fund spent $1.7 million helping to elect Republican Michael Waltz over Democrat Nancy Soderberg, who was heavily backed by Independence USA PAC, the super PAC created by Bloomberg and that is most connected to him.
Perhaps more problematic, though, are some of the Democrats and liberal groups that With Honor PAC, a related federal "hard-dollar" PAC, has given to, including prominent names on the Left that can hardly be called cross-partisan.
One is Nancy Pelosi, who garnered a With Honor PAC campaign donation last March. The PAC has also contributed to Emily's List, which has raised more than $600 million to elect pro-choice Democratic women candidates.
The With Honor Fund supported Democrat Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot, for a congressional seat in Kentucky. McGrath ran on a platform that opposed President Trump's signature tax reform legislation, supported the Affordable Care Act, and called for climate change action. Once a member of the NRA, McGrath dropped her membership.
She lost the election narrowly to the Republican incumbent. In 2020, she is challenging incumbent Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Contribution to impeachment supporter, prevailing wage
If the funds flowing in for Church from With Honor troubles some conservatives, Church himself has muddied his position in conservative waters, one by donating to a liberal Democrat who voted to impeach Trump and another when he aligned with labor's position on the federal prevailing wage law, which Church supports.
According to FEC records, Church has apparently made two campaign contributions to federal candidates. He has supported his former boss, Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, and in 2017 he donated to the campaign of liberal Democrat U.S. Rep. Max Rose, who is also supported by With Honor.
Rose's path is also similar to that of Mast's election and Church's bid. After being wounded in Afghanistan, he returned home to run for Congress in Staten Island, New York, promising a new kind of cross-partisan politics. He famously declared to Vanity Fair that he owed no fealty to the Democratic Party.
"I have zero allegiance to the Democratic Party, zero," Rose told the magazine. "I am a populist."
He also penned an editorial, the magazine reported, that argued against impeaching the president. In the end, though, he toed the party line and voted for impeachment.
And whether or not Rose feels any allegiance to the party, he is more loyal to the party's liberal policy orthodoxy. For instance, along with such groups as the American Federation of Teachers, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Center for American Progress, he supported the Assault Weapons Ban Act of 2019.
In the Vanity Fair piece, he called the NRA a bunch of "bandits with blood money."
As Vanity Fair reported, too, Rose is major supporter of trade unions, supports a public health care option, and would lower the eligibility age for Medicare to between 50 and 55.
Attracting more attention than his contribution has been Church's support of the federal prevailing wage, otherwise known as the Davis-Bacon Act.
The Davis Bacon Act requires the payment of prevailing wage rates to all laborers and mechanics on federal government and District of Columbia construction projects in excess of $2,000. The federal Department of Labor determines the prevailing wage that has to be paid.
Conservatives believe the prevailing wage law keeps the cost of public infrastructure projects artificially high, increasing costs to taxpayers and often shutting out smaller, local, and often rural contractors who can't afford to pay the prevailing wage.
It acts as an artificially higher minimum wage for government contract workers, paid by taxpayers, they argue.
Church's position especially drew the ire of Right Wisconsin's editor, James Wigderson, who labeled Church a "swamp creature" in an endorsement of Tiffany by the website. As Wigderson cited, WISN-AM's Mark Belling reported Church flip-flopped on the federal prevailing wage in a political questionnaire, and then John Gard co-hosted a fundraiser for him.
Gard is a former GOP Assembly speaker who has since become a union lobbyist, and he has aggressively tried to have the state prevailing wage reinstated. In an interview with The Lakeland Times, Church defended his position on the federal prevailing wage, saying that both then Rep. Sean Duffy and President Trump have also supported it.
Duffy did vote against its repeal, but the president's position is more complicated. For example, in discussing Trump's widely touted but never pursued infrastructure program, administration officials have said the prevailing wage law requirements would remain intact.
In 2017, in fact, transportation secretary Elaine Chao said the program would employ the standards of the Davis-Bacon Act and that wage protections were necessary to ensure Democratic support for the plan.
However, unions are charging that the Trump administration is trying to undermine Davis-Bacon as it rewrites federal rules for apprenticeship job-training programs. Under the proposed rule, the construction industry could create industry recognized apprenticeship programs, giving employers more freedom to decide how many training hours to provide, to fashion alternative curricula, and to set the standards trainees need to achieve to graduate.
Unions say the rule would allow businesses to run low-quality training programs with minimal standards, oversight, and pay, and undercut wages and benefits throughout the industry.
Whether or not that is true, it's clear Congress won't be repealing the law unless Republicans recapture the House and keep the Senate. If the latter scenario should happen, Republican positions on Davis-Bacon would become critical within the party.
It's already critical for some conservatives monitoring the seventh congressional district race. Among others, Eric Bott, a senior advisor to Americans for Prosperity Action, which has endorsed Tiffany, has called upon Church to reconsider his position.
"The antiquated Davis-Bacon Act and similar crony policies do little more than promote government favoritism and encourage the construction of lower quality infrastructure projects at higher costs," Bott said. "While his support for these policies is still fresh, Jason Church should acknowledge they make life harder for Wisconsin's small businesses and families and reconsider his position immediately."
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.
Posted: Monday, February 17, 2020
Article comment by:
So . . . . Guilt by association.
Here's the raw data: https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?cycle=2018&strID=C00661272
Mike & Jackie Bezos donated $10K to this PAC that has raised $464K in 2018 and nothing at all in the 2020 election cycle.
In the 2018 cycle, their spending was about 50-50 R to D. In 2020, it's about 3 to 1 R to D. This is a conservative PAC.
But the paper wants to smear the candidate who's not Tom Tiffany, so it compiles a list of people and events that are wholly unrelated to Jason Church, and then uses guilt by association to smear him.
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