Thursday, August 14, 2008

Who's Funding Fimian and Why?

According to this week’s Burke Connection, Keith Fimian has outraised Gerry Connolly in the 11th CD race. Fimian raised nearly $1.3 million to Connolly’s $936,484 as of June 30. Because Fimian had no primary, that gave him a greater advantage with cash on hand too – he had nearly $1 million. Connolly, who had an expensive four-way primary, only had $275,990 at the same point.

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.

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.
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.

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.

"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."
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.

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.

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.
And here’s a report from Bill Donahue writing in Mother Jones, describing the student body of Ave Maria.
"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."

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."
Parents and former students have expressed concern over the cult-like environment at Ave Maria, as this report from USA Today shows.
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.

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."
And, as mentioned above, faculty who try to buck Monaghan’s iron will face the prospect of firings
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.

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."
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.

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.

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.
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.


J. Tyler Ballance said...

Six months ago, while talking with a senior member of the Fimian campaign, I was told that Mr. Fimian was the, "...hardest working candidate..." that that campaign pro had ever seen. Of special note was the way that Mr. Fimian was calling business contacts that he has all over the country to help fund his campaign. Supposedly he was spending eighteen hours per day making calls, displaying extraordinary stamina and perseverance.

On one point we can agree: Money plays too big of a role in our political campaigns. Big donors expect access and influence and that sort of special status comes at the expense of the constituents.

Both Parties now run nationwide fund raising for even small regional contests.

The answer, rather than trying to demonize Mr. Fimian's broad business contacts, or his religious affiliation with the Catholic Church, is for citizens from the Democratic and Republican sides to get together and craft significant campaign reform.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Limit contributions only to individuals who live, full time, in the Congressional District. In Virginia state and local contests, eliminate all contributions from corporations and non full time residents.

2. Limit the campaign season to only three months for Congressional campaigns and six months for statewide and the Presidency.

3. Require media to provide for weekly debates that include the top six polling candidates.

Mr. Fimian is somewhat a Pro Life Republican who has been active in his Church community, but is not a religious zealot. His business success and the good example he has set as a solid citizen and family man, make him an admirable candidate who will have broad appeal in his District.

As for addressing the underlying concern about outside contributors, that is a problem that will require strong bi-partisan work to achieve successful resolution.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Tyler, you raise some very interesting suggestions for campaign reform that I have to really think about. I agree with you that money buys too much influence.

However, I can't let stand your assertion that Fimian is simply active in his church and not a religious zealot. The whole point of the two posts that I've done is that he may well be a religious zealot.

I also take issue with your suggestion that I was "demonizing" his religious affiliation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I took special pains to find and quote Catholic critics of Monaghan and Ave Maria. Please note this quote from my diary:

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.

I also quoted a Jesuit priest, the late Rev. Robert Drinan, who while very liberal, remained obedient to his church and Pope and stepped down from Congress when ordered to do so.

I am far from anti-Catholic. The issue is not that Fimian is a pro-life Catholic but that almost half of his contributions come from an organization founded by an almost cult-like leader.

It is inappropriate that a grown woman, on the faculty of Ave Maria, be ordered to bow down on her knees before Monaghan. He is not an ordained priest, nor a bishop. He is an ordinary layman with a lot of money who founded a very authoritarian organization. That's not about Catholicism, it's about a cult of the individual personality.

Keith Fimian may be a very hardworking, modest, dedicated person. But that does not exempt him from telling voters exactly where he stands on social issues. He's not merely mildly pro-life, as you suggest. He admits to being prol-life and against the death penalty. But he refuses to discuss his other views on social issuesl, claiming they are irrelevant to the district.

As a resident of that district, who would be his constituent, I can tell you they are not irrelevant to me or others who live in that district.

Bwana said...

So I can only assume you also be taking a whack at Judy Feder who is pulling in even less of a share of her campaign funds from within the 10th district than Mr. Fimian has done in the 11th?

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Actually, enough Republicans already point that out. What's fair for them is also fair for us.

And the real issue with Fimian isn't that the funding is from out of state but that it's from out of state and also from supporters of one particular group with a very pronounced political and sectarian religious agenda.

Again, Republican opponents of Feder are happy to point out how much of her money comes from out of her district and from whom it comes. They aren't immune from others making the same point against their candidates.

The GOP just doesn't get to hit and run any more. We have learned to hit back when it's appropriate.

This time, given the particular source of the fundraising, I think it is.

Bwana said...

I understand that Democrats have the right to "hit back" country, first amendment and all that.

I just think it ironic that after two plus years of RK and others going on about how Ms. Feder's massive out of state fundraising is perfectly OK since she is a challenger (despite taking money from gambling interests, folks involved in class action suits with the Commonwealth of Virginia) etc., that he promotes your cross post.

No, I fully think that if you are going to represent a district you have to be able to find financial support there...shame on both Fimian and Feder that they cannot find support among those they want to represent.

Anonymous said...

AIAW I am dismayed at how far you have fallen. You used to be one of the better sites in the blogosphere

VaBlogger said this would happen and I was going to give the left the benefit of the doubt. Its amazing how spot on he was.

Seriously quit hanging out with the RK kids so much.


AnonymousIsAWoman said...

NMM, it saddens me that you feel this way as I have always respected you too. You always used to be moderate about social issues.

Can you accept that even though you support Fimian because he's the GOP choice, some people can be genuinely concerned about the theocratic implications of some of the people who support him - a large number of them, I might add?

In fact, this concern is nothing new for me. I wrote this back in January 2007:

What is the difference whether Brownback or Fimian? The supporters and donors are the same. And it concerns me more with Fimian because these are people who don't live in the 11th CD and don't live in Virginia. Again, I seriously doubt they are giving in the amounts that they are because they are more concerned about our traffic problems than they are about the problems in their own states.

Religion is both my passion and something whose shadow side I am very conscious of. Perhaps those who have always been in the dominant faith and whose families were blessed to have been born in the USA for generations don't have the same fears as a first generation American whose family was subject to persecution and pogroms in Europe. I just don't have the luxury to believe it can't happen here. It can happen here, anywhere, without vigilance.

The threat may not come from the radical Christian right. It could come from the radical Islamic sects. It could even come from atheists trying to stamp out all religion. But unless we guard against all theocracies, we all can be endangered.

We have to guarantee religious freedom and tolerance for all groups. We have to be vigilant against intolerance from all groups too.

For me, that's an even bigger issue than pro choice or pro life. I sincerely worry about people like Tom Monaghan because I think some of his followers are almost cult-like. Ave Maria inspires no confidence in me. And that has nothing to do with mainstream Catholics, many of whom share my unease.

Anonymous said...

I am encouraged by the Rick Warren meeting today and the large amount of coverage in the MSM. Hopefully the conversations will be well publicized as well.

Did you see the post article about the new generation of evangelicals

I am seriously giving Obama a look


AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I think you should give Obama a serious look before dismissing him out of hand.

Thank you for the link to the Washington Post article. I've been noting a small shift among younger Evangelicals. I've written about a movement within Evangelical circles known as Emerging Church.

Two good sites are:

And for an older group of progressive Evangelicals

There are also some wonderful books by Brian McClaren, Phillip Yancey, Tony Campolo, and Jim Wallis about various aspects of progressive Evangelicalism. On social issues, they would still be considered theologically conservative, but they are more interested in finding solutions that bring people together rather than using wedge issues to drive people apart. They search for common ground.

And they are concerned about the environment, social justice, and fighting racism, all from a Christian perspective.

Of course, there have always been progressive Catholics too.

That's why it amuses me when people accuse me of demonizing all religion because I question some people on the religious far right, such as Monaghan.

No, I'm not demonizing religion. I'm saying that there are other points of view even within religion. There are very fair religious and theological debates, just as there are political debates. All that I oppose is intolerance, whether political or theological.

Anyway, I hope you do check out Obama and some of these sites and then make your own decision. I'm sure it will be a fair and thoughtful one, whichever way you ultimately decide.