Congressional candidate Allen West‘s massive quarterly financial reports document donations made to the far-right Republican by a pair of controversial figures: an Ohio man accused of “racial vigilantism” and a soldier imprisoned for the unpremeditated murder of an Iraqi terror suspect.
West’s War and Peace-sized reports are the direct benefit of being a favorite of tea party groups. West has received hordes of small donations from across the country, many of them from conservative military veterans — $25 from a Vietnam vet from Fredericksburg, Va.; $350 (in $50 increments) from a former member of the Army Field Band out of Sierra Vista, Ariz.; $600 from a retired U.S. Army colonel in Fairfield, Calif.; and so on.
West has hit all of the right notes to woo the tea party vote, calling for drastically reduced taxes and heavy reforms to Social Security and immigration. He supports Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070 immigration law, wants to repeal federal health care legislation and begins all blog entries on his website with “Dear Fellow Patriots.” And West’s fortunes have risen with the tea party movement itself. Only negligible competition when he faced Klein in 2008, he stands a very real chance of overthrowing the incumbent this year.
Many of West’s donors have a pattern of donating to tea party candidates: West shares donors with Joe Miller in Alaska’s Senate race and Sharon Angle in Nevada’s, but after a line-by-line reading of West’s campaign finance documents, it appears that no tea party House candidate in the country has attracted as many small donations from outside his district as West.
Of course, not every donation comes in small amounts.
For example, Arnold Barnett of Cincinnati and his wife Mary Jo each gave the maximum — $4,800 — to the West campaign. Last year, Barnett was accused of discriminatory practices in his position on the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority board. He resigned from the post not long after federal investigators announced they were looking into claims that Barnett tried to move more Section 8 housing near the home of a lawyer with whom he was feuding.
His fellow board members called him “offensive,” “erratic” and even “an ass.” Barnett called the member who issued that last pronouncement, John Rosenberg, “a kike.” (Bizarrely, Barnett — like Rosenberg — is Jewish, but defended his use of the term by arguing it referred to a Jew of “low character.”)
Scott Behenna, meanwhile, didn’t contribute the maximum amount. The father of Michael Behenna (who currently resides in the military prison at Leavenworth), Scott gave the West campaign $1,000.
West has returned the Behenna family’s support, speaking at a rally for Michael this past Labor Day in Fort Leavenworth. Originally sentenced to 25 years after being found guilty of unpremeditated murder for shooting Ali Mansur, an Iraqi terror suspect, Behenna’s sentence was later reduced to 15 years and is currently being appealed.
Although all sides agree that Behenna drove Mansur out into the desert and shot him rather than release him as commanded, Behenna maintains that he shot Mansur only after the Iraqi lunged for his gun.
West, of course, first came to prominence among conservatives after his mock execution of a suspected terrorist prompted his retirement from the Army and almost saw him court-martialed as well. As West said at the Labor Day rally in Leavenworth, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
The West campaign did not respond to requests for more information on its relationship with Arnold Barnett and the Behenna family.
Aside from the small donations from outside his district, and the larger amounts from figures like Barnett and Behenna, West is picking up big donations from South Florida’s heavy Republican donors.
Miguel Aguero, his wife and his company Q Med have all given the maximum amount. Gail Coniglio, owner of the E.R. Bradley’s restaurant, gave the full amount, as did Broward College professor Dorothy Easley. For the most part, the list of donors who have given the maximum amount reads the same as it would for any other local Republican candidate who looks like a winner — the same corporate chieftains and business owners the GOP regularly relies on.
That dichotomy between small donors around the country and big-time donors close to home makes West’s fundraising unusual, but of course, the West movement has been unusual in so many ways. Indeed, West’s reliance on corporate backers may be the only way in which the West campaign is a Republican campaign like any other.