This past week, the Republican Party succeeded in drawing attention to an under-reported story regarding the appalling lack or morals that the Arizona Democratic Party has displayed with its acceptance of donations from the troubled owners of Backpage.com.
In case you have not heard about Backpage and are unfamiliar with who these two unsavory characters are that founded this disgraceful site, allow me to give you a quick introduction: Michael Lacey and James Larkin are the former Phoenix New Times executives who went on to grow their business launching Backpage, a digital classified site that has become the center of controversy.
Backpage became incredibly successful and, by 2014, was operating in 97 countries and in 17 languages. By all outward appearances, it would seem Lacey and Larkin were successful, upright citizens who wanted just to share their good fortune and wealth by contributing to the Democratic Party.
The pair has reportedly donated some $162,200 to the party since 2013 — $60,200 of that to Arizona politicians and political committees, and $10,600 of that to U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in 2013 and 2016, according to an analysis of state and federal campaign finance records.
Further, records show Sinema received an additional $10,800 in donations from the spouses of two other Backpage executives on the same day in 2016 when Lacey donated $5,400 to Sinema’s campaign.
A political action committee affiliated with Sinema also received $16,200.
Sinema is believed to be the largest individual beneficiary of their donations in Arizona.
It sounds like a good deal for the Sinema and her fellow Democrats, except there is a problem, a very large problem: The site has reportedly been an enabler of child prostitution and human trafficking.
In January, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded in its Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking report that Backpage knowingly accepted ads from pimps who had coerced underage children into having sex for money.
A federal grand jury is reviewing the evidence against both men, and lawyers for Lacey and Larkin expect their clients will be indicted for enabling and promoting prostitution, child prostitution and human trafficking in their “adult services” section.
The two founders of the New Times, along with their business partners, are facing criminal charges in California and lawsuits by trafficking victims in six states.
So why would Democrats take money from donors who are profiting off of such a known horrendous thing? Good question.
The Arizona Democratic Party took $40,000 from the two men last year, three months before they faced their first criminal charges in California. When asked if the party planned to keep the $40,000, party spokesman Enrique Gutiérrez said the money had already been spent. Go figure.
The question of why the Democrats took dirty money from this controversial site is such a good question that political coordinator Kyle Pierce urged Republicans in Sinema’s district to attend the congresswoman’s Coffee Club and ask about the donations.
To those who attended, the party offered to reimburse the Coffee Club’s $25 membership fee.
“It would be absolutely wonderful if we had as many of her Republican constituents (sic) as possible attend this event to ask her why she accepted thousands of dollars from the creator of Backpage.com,” Pierce wrote in an email to supporters.
“I’m sure most of you have been keeping up with the news on this. It’s pretty bad, and we’re trying to hold her accountable for it.”
Days after student journalists reported the findings of Sinema’s acceptance of these dirty donations, she seemed to have had a sudden bout of conscious — or more likely a good old-fashioned panic attack — as she realized the secret was out and her public image was at stake.
She quickly claimed she had no knowledge of where the donations came from (as to be expected) and she tried unsuccessfully to unload the donations to a media nonprofit called Friends of Public Radio.
Hours after the first donation was turned down by Friends of Public Radio, Sinema’s donation of an even larger amount — $53,400 — from other Backpage employees and family members to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence was accepted.
It appears that Sinema has pulled off an ironic and fortuitous escape from her critics. Or so she thinks.
Cindy McCain, who co-chairs the Arizona Human Trafficking Council, is a very outspoken and dedicated activist to the cause of protecting women and children from such horrific crimes. She was appalled that the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence had accepted the money.
“I am stunned that Congresswoman Sinema would take their money. She should have known better, but she still took it,” McCain told the Arizona Republic. “And then she thinks she can just say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, let me give it away,’ that it’s somehow less tainted if she gives it to someone else.
“And the coalition took it! I am horribly dismayed by that decision. I find it obscene that they think they can take dirty money like this and think they can put it to better use.”
A coalition board member said Wednesday that taking the cash is “one of the best things that can be done with that money under the circumstances is to work directly with programs that will protect people from … what Backpage was doing.”
Like McCain, I believe there are a lot of people who know dirty money has no place in politics whether it gets donated under pressure or not. The fact it was taken in the first place stands and we should not forget it regardless of where it is being spent now.
Dirty money is dirty politics. Shame on Sinema and the Democrats, the self-proclaimed champions of women and children.
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