But the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story when it comes to political advantage. In fact, Connolly, an experienced elected official with greater name recognition, enjoys a 52 to 21 percent lead over Fimian, as of July, according to the Connolly campaign’s internal polling. In addition, Fimian’s cash advantage doesn’t reflect support in the district. As the Connection reports, citing the Center for Responsive Politics, Fimian raised only 41 percent of money from inside Virginia and only one of Fimian’s top donors lives in the district, compared to Connolly, who has raised almost 77 percent of his money from Virginia, with 10 top donors in the district. Add to this the fact that Fimian contributed $325,000 of his own money to his campaign, while Connolly has not given any of his personal funds to his race.
Nevertheless, Fimian’s campaign will try to spin his fundraising prowess as a sign of support within the 11th CD. In fact, his campaign manager, Zack Condry, said:
He is getting support both in the district and throughout the country. He has lots of friends and those friends support him running for Congress."It may, however, be worth looking at some of those friends – 59 percent of whom don’t live in Virginia, let alone his Congressional District.
According to an article in the Examiner:
An analysis of Fimian’s recent donors shows he’s collected more than $100,000 from dozens of members — or relatives of those members — of Legatus, a national organization of Catholic business executives created by Domino’s Pizza founder and pro-life activist Tom Monaghan. Fimian reports taking in more than $1.3 million by the end of June. Legatus is based in Ave Maria, Fla., a planned religious community also co-founded by Monaghan, who drew protests from civil libertarians when he reportedly outlined plans to ban pornography and contraception from the town’s stores.First of all, Fimian may be wrong that it is irrelevant. He is trying to make it irrelevant because he knows being anti-abortion, anti stem cell research and anti gay are losing issues in a moderate district which has been trending blue. Even at its most Republican, when Tom Davis was unbeatable, it was never a socially conservative district. Davis ran as a moderate and was at least nominally pro choice.
While Fimian, also a member of the Legatus board of governors, makes no attempt to hide his association with the group, it could prove problematic in a district that has voted less and less faithfully Republican in recent years. He is running against Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly, a powerful Democrat.
Fimian said he’s pro-life and universally opposes the death penalty, but declined to elaborate on views on other social issues, arguing they are irrelevant to the 11th District.
But voters in the 11th might be even more concerned about those out of staters throwing their money at Fimian. A lot of that $1.3 million he’s raised has come from members of Legatus, of which he’s an officer, and family and friends of Ave Maria University, Ave Maria Law School, and Ave Maria township in Naples, Florida. All of those organizations were founded by Thomas Monaghan, who also maxed out to Fimian. Monaghan gave $2,300 and his wife kicked in another $2,300 to the Fimian campaign. For all that Fimian may want to pretend his election isn’t about social issues, somehow I doubt those donors are really concerned about Fairfax’s traffic problems.
In fact, Tom Monaghan, one of the major donors, has a reputation of being a single minded anti-abortion proponent with a history of backing ultra rightwing candidates like Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum and George Bush. He also has supported, and received favors from, Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida.
More troubling, however, than Monaghan’s political donations is that he is an autocrat who runs his schools and town almost like a cult. He’s a man on a mission and that mission is to impose his particular religious and social beliefs on the rest of society. Here’s a quote from a Washington Post article from 2007.
Tom Monaghan "is putting his money and influence" into making Brownback "the next president of the United States," McClatchy Newspapers' Matt Stearns recently reported. The extremely wealthy, and controversial conservative Catholic, "is advising the 2008 presidential exploratory committee for Brownback, a longtime social conservative who converted to Catholicism a few years ago," Stearns pointed out.Monaghan started building his alternative universe with Ave Maria Law School, which has been the eye of a storm of controversy almost since its inception.
"In the Catholic community, he's looked upon as kind of on the fringes," the Rev. Robert Drinan, a liberal Roman Catholic priest and former Democratic congressman who teaches at Georgetown University, told Stearns. "The worldview is, 'We have to get back to a Catholic civilization'. They want to go back to a Christian society imposed from above...It's just another world they want to build."
To start with, Ave Maria Law School has had trouble getting and keeping its accreditation. When Monaghan decided to pick it up and move it from Michigan to Naples, Florida to become the centerpiece of his town, the faculty of the school protested and passed a vote of no confidence in Monaghan and his law school dean, Bernard Dombraski. Faculty members resigned in protest over Dombraski and Monaghan’s autocratic style, which puts Monaghan’s whims before the good of the school. (For the whole story, go to Ave Watch.)
Perhaps the most egregious firing, though, was Monaghan’s attempt to sack his provost, Father Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit priest beloved by traditionalist Catholics. Even for a school which places high value on absolute obedience from its staff and student body, this was too much and led to open protest. Father Fessio is a close personal friend to and former student of Pope Benedict, who is one of the most orthodox pontiffs to hold the office in modern times. But that didn’t daunt Monaghan.
Tom Monaghan rules Ave Maria like an autocrat. Indeed, his nickname is “King.” And he decides the dress code for females, including faculty. Here’s a story of his autocracy from Ave Watch:
The following is, by far, the most commonly heard "insider" story concerning Tom Monaghan. Ask a past or present employee from any of the Ave Maria entities about this story, and he or she will probably be familiar with it. Multiple current and former employees have offered AveWatch corroborating accounts. Yet, to date, it remains unpublished.And here’s a report from Bill Donahue writing in Mother Jones, describing the student body of Ave Maria.
But, requiring a dress or skirt was not enough for Mr. Monaghan. It had to be of a 'proper' length at/below the knees.
Shirley Daum was a married mother who worked at Domino Farms. According to co-workers and friends, she was a solid employee who "always acted professionally" and was "a cheerful and delightful person to be around". As the account goes, in Mr. Monaghan's outer office area, he noticed one day that Daum was wearing a skirt whose length might not have met the knee dress code. In the presence of other employees, Monaghan then proceeded to tell Daum to kneel in front of him so that he could determine whether the skirt touched the floor and was subsequently in compliance with the dress code.
Can you imagine the humiliation of a married woman being told by her boss to kneel in his presence, in front of co-workers? To be clear, AveWatch is not implying that the instruction to kneel was done with sexual intent. But, it doesn't need to be overtly sexual to be humiliating. It should also be remembered that a perpetrator's private "intent" is not necessarily transferable to a participant or observer who may have very different perceptions about the intent.
"The first time i ever kissed a guy," a gentle, soft-spoken Ave Maria freshman named Mersadis said over her mozzarella sticks, "I thought it was disgusting. And now I don't want another guy to kiss me before marriage." She took a sip of her iced tea, then continued. "In high school, I found myself looking at every girl and asking, 'Has she given up her virginity? Is she still pure?' Here, I've stopped asking. I know everyone is."Parents and former students have expressed concern over the cult-like environment at Ave Maria, as this report from USA Today shows.
Beside me sat a stern and erudite priest-in-training, a freshman named Aaron. "Here at Ave Maria, we follow the teachings of the magisterium," he intoned, meaning that students regard the pope's guidance as infallible. "We have not prostituted ourselves.... Other Catholic schools—and the rest of America—have embraced modernism and the culture of death. They have given wholehearted support to the death penalty, abortion, and euthanasia. The value of the human person is now entirely relative."
Aaron argued that the United States can only be saved from moral perdition if it, like Ave Maria, embraces the magisterium as supreme. "We don't believe in the separation of church and state," he said, "and this country should orient itself toward Christ. The foundation of Western civilization rests on Christendom, which means that America owes its existence to the Catholic Church."
Some parents, too, have raised concerns. Guilbert Brown, budget director at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., says he was impressed when he visited the campus in 2004 with daughter Sacha.And, as mentioned above, faculty who try to buck Monaghan’s iron will face the prospect of firings
But after she started her freshman year, he grew disturbed by changes in her behavior. A confident leader in her parish in Virginia, she became secretive and withdrawn. She worried her mother would be criticized for wearing sleeveless blouses or low necklines during campus visits. She called home only if no one was within earshot.
Eventually, Sacha transferred to the University of Dallas, where she has met at least four other former Ave Maria students.
It's not uncommon for students to transfer to other schools, but this was more than just a bad fit, Brown says. "We saw an environment where the free expression of the human spirit is thwarted."
In 2003, college staffers raised concerns about questionable financial aid practices to the Department of Education, which found, among other things, that students at the Florida university were not eligible to receive federal aid but were getting it through the Michigan college. Ave Maria College returned $259,620 to the department in 2004. Two lawsuits against the college have been dismissed, but Ave Maria College lawyers have appealed a third to the Michigan Supreme Court. That suit was filed by a whistle-blower who sparked the federal investigation.It’s important to note that none of this criticism is coming from secularists with their own hidden agenda. These are fellow devout, traditional Catholics, many of whom taught at Ave Maria or attended it as students and who grew disillusioned with Monaghan’s ham handed tactics.
Meanwhile, watchdog Internet sites mercilessly scrutinize each new development, be it the shake-up this spring in the admissions department or reports that yet another professor has been banned from his office.
Most complaints can be boiled down to one thing: Monaghan, who is the university's primary donor and chancellor, has too much control over an institution of higher education, of which shared governance is a hallmark.
"That whole organization is basically run like a sole proprietorship," says Christopher Beiting, a visiting history professor at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green who spent six years at Ave Maria College before quitting last year. Ave Maria College "was a very nice thing for a while," he says. "Most of the very competent people (who knew) how to run universities either left after a while or (were) pushed out."
Says Lee: Once colleagues "spoke of high academic aspirations and their personal devotion to Mary and to the Catholic Church." Now, the atmosphere is "dominated by the personal preferences of Tom Monaghan."
More troubling, however, than the school, is Monaghan’s town, by the same name. It was built outside of Naples, Florida. Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and convert to Catholicism, declared it a special tax district like Disney World. The difference, though, is that Disney World does not have any religious agenda or ties. According to Donahue in Mother Jones:
To conservatives, Monaghan is a deep-pocketed savior. Florida governor Jeb Bush, a converted Catholic, made Ave Maria Town a special tax district like Disney World, giving the self-appointed Board of Supervisors (run by Monaghan's development partner) wideonging powers and exempting the town from state and local laws.That’s not the extent of the favor the town has received from local politicians as this article from the Naples News shows.
Think the Ave Maria project is financed entirely by private loans? Think again.Tom Monaghan has won a lot of favors and financial rewards through cultivating wealthy and influential businessmen. And he’s attempting to extend his own influence further by carefully developing friendships with like minded theocratic politicians like Jeb Bush, Sam Brownback and now Keith Fimian. Don't let anybody kid you, the issues Fimian is trying to skirt around are very relevant to the district he hopes to represent. And so is the source of so much of his financial support.
In the past four years, Ave Maria has received nearly $128 million in tax-free municipal bonds. The money has built a water and sewer plant, university student and faculty housing, and provided general town infrastructure.
Three separate governmental bodies — the Collier County Industrial Development Authority, the Collier County Educational Facilities Authority and the state-approved Ave Maria Stewardship Community District — have authorized five bond issues that benefit town developers and future residents.
Bonds issued by these entities are tax-free, making them equivalent to those from any government in the state.
As Ave Maria town and university develop, expect them to continue using municipal bond financing.
Similar to community development districts operating all over Southwest Florida, the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District, which at this point is run entirely by the town’s developer, has jurisdiction over nearly 11,000 acres in and around the town.
In 2006, the district approved and Collier circuit court validated more than $820 million in tax-free bonds for town infrastructure. So far, the district has issued just $52 million of that amount.