"FACTCHECK/UPDATED: Jonathan Lee Backers Gave More Than $1.2 Million to Republicans" by Politics Blog | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Politics Blog

FACTCHECK/UPDATED: Jonathan Lee Backers Gave More Than $1.2 Million to Republicans

Note: This story has been updated with a total donation figure that Lee's backers gave to federal Republican candidates since 2008. The new paragraph is bolded down below.

In the WAPT-Clarion-Ledger debate, Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. alluded to the fact that he is a real Democrat when he unloaded on opponent Jonathan Lee in his closing statement. This is clearly a continuation of some Jacksonians' belief that Lee is a "Rankin County Republican," a meme we've heard off and on for months now.

We have factchecked both parts of that allegation to the best of our ability and will address them both below.

First, Rankin County

Lee's campaign materials make him sound like a life-long Jacksonian. His website states:

Jonathan was born, grew up and lives in Jackson. Jonathan was born and raised in Jackson into a family with deep ties throughout the community. The son of two Lanier graduates and part of a family whose roots span three generations in Jackson’s Georgetown community, Jonathan learned early what it meant to be proud of one’s city.

Jonathan called all of Jackson home – from growing up on Meadow Lane to getting picked up by his grandmother (“Big Mama”) after school who lived in Georgetown. After graduating from high school, Jonathan attended Mississippi State University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and a Master’s in Business Administration.

The part that is left out of that description is that Lee's family moved to Rankin County in 1988 when he was 11. He later graduated from Northwest Rankin High School and did not live in Jackson again until 2009 when records show that Lee and his wife moved into Jackson from Rankin County. When asked, he does not deny that he has lived less than four years in Jackson as an adult.

Lee, who is 35 now, took over as president of his father's company when he was 24, according to his campaign materials. He told the Jackson Free Press that he stepped down from the company, which he never owned, in December 2011, meaning that he ran it for about 10 years.

Candidate Lee ran into a Rankin-related controversy last year after a commenter posted on the Jackson Free Press site that he was still driving a Maroon SUV with a Rankin County plate. In response to an Aug. 10, 2012, query about it, Lee emailed the Jackson Free Press:

This particular rumor has been shopped around various media outlets all week. The vehicle I assume that they are referring to is my company vehicle. My personal vehicle is registered in Hinds County, a fact easily verified.

MPI is owned by an entity chartered and located in Rankin County. It was where our distribution company was originally located. In fact, MPI has only been located in Jackson for 19 years. For those 19 years MPI has paid property taxes, inventory taxes, and school taxes in Jackson, Miss. The parent company is still located in Rankin county today and my company car is owned, titled and registered to the parent company.

This is the secretary of state's entry for Mississippi Products Inc. It does not indicate a parent company in Rankin County, and he did not mention a parent company in his recent interview about MPI with the JFP. We have emailed him requesting more information about it.

County license-plate records show that Lee moved the license plate for his company GMC into Hinds County, where car tags cost more, on Aug. 13, 2012, three days after the JFP asked him about it last year. Records show that the car (purchased in 2011) is registered to his mother, Ruby Jean Lee, listing Mississippi Products' Valley Street address in Jackson. We are still unsure if there was a "parent company" in Rankin County unless he is speaking of his mother; we can locate no company in Rankin County registered to either Jonathan or Jean Lee, other than MPI Laundry Services LLC, which was registered to Lee at his home in Brandon. That company was dissolved, however, in 2007 and did not exist when the GMC was purchased in 2011.

Lee a Republican?

Lee is running for Jackson mayor as a Democrat, and there is no evidence that he is currently a Republican. His campaign's finance director Jeff Good told the JFP: "I can help here. My friend Jonathan Lee is no Republican. He is a Precinct Delegate for Hinds County Democratic Party. Precinct 37. Serves with Mayor Johnson and his wife, Kathy."

Indeed, records indicate that Lee has voted numerous times as a Democrat. The first time he voted in Hinds County was 29 months ago in November 2010. The last time he voted in Rankin County was Nov. 4, 2008, in Brandon.

His record in Rankin County showed that, when party is indicated, he voted two times as a Democrat there and two times as a Republican since 2002. One of those times was in the Aug. 8, 2007, Republican primary when Haley Barbour was at the top of the GOP primary ticket.

In his JFP endorsement interview, Lee said he voted Republican once in Rankin County—for his neighbor, a Republican who was on the ballot. (He could not recall his name.) Lee might have counted both Republican votes as one time; the second GOP vote Lee cast was in the run-off in that primary.

In that interview, Lee also offered information to the JFP that Harvey Johnson is the only one of the top five candidates who has never voted Republican—presumably meaning that he, Chokwe Lumumba, Regina Quinn and Frank Bluntson have. We have not confirmed that allegation, which has also been promulgated by Hinds County Sheriff Department spokesman Othor Cain, who seems to support Lee.

That information, which Lee told to the JFP, matches information compiled and reported by NGP VAN. Its reports show those Lee Republican votes, a Republican vote by Lumumba in the 2000 Republican primary, another by Quinn in the Republican runoff in 2008 (but, oddly, Democratic in the primary that preceding it), and four primary GOP votes by Bluntson from 1993 to 2003.

Quinn vehemently denied it in email that she has ever voted Republican, calling it a database error:

"That’s ridiculous. Whoever put that information into 'databases' is playing the same 'old political gam' ” they always play during the waning days of a campaign season. I assure you that if you ask for backup documentation to support that allegation, you will receive none. I have been the most transparent candidate in this race, Ms. Ladd. I told the voters that I filed for bankruptcy and successfully completed the bankruptcy plan to turn my financial life around. Likewise, if I were a Republican, I would proudly say so. Voters should not trust any candidate who would lie to them about who they are. …"

Quinn added: "After you satisfy yourself that I am telling the truth just like I did when I was attacked in this fashion the first time, I would suggest that you research the party affiliation of the candidate that Mr. Cain is supporting because this allegation is obviously a diversion from his own candidate. Let me be clear, I am and have always been a Democrat and voted consistently that way, albeit I can and do work with people of all persuasion."

Lumumba said in a candidate forum Sunday, in response to a question by Cain, that he has never voted Republican as Lee told us. "I don't think ANYONE confuses me as a Republican," Lumumba said, bringing a lot of laughs. We have not asked Bluntson yet about his Republican votes, but he does share a Republican donor with Lee: Leland Speed gave him $2,000 in addition to his donations to the Lee campaign committee and the Jackson 20/20 PAC that paid Lee's campaign advisers in 2012.

Regardless of his voting record, Lee has plenty of Republican and even ultra-conservative support. An analysis of Lee's 2012 campaign-finance report, as well as the Jackson 20/20 PAC (which, to date, has given thousands of dollars to Lee's campaign advisers), shows that many of the donors are heavy Republican supporters.

An analysis using OpenSecrets.org for campaign donation information shows that contributors to Lee's campaign and the Jackson 20/20 PAC in 2012 and 2013, also gave$1.23 million to federal GOP candidates and committees in federal races, far outpacing the amount contributed to Democrats. That figure does not include Republicans in state and local races. The recipients include a long list of Republicans including Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Rick Perry and even the uber-controversial Richard Mourdock (who infamously said that pregnancy during a rape "is something that God intended to happen"). In Mississippi federal races, Lee's backers contributed to all GOP congressional delegation members.

One of the donors to Lee, for instance, is a dentist from Flora, Dr. Gregory Tharp. I remember Tharp from Facebook encounters during the presidential election last fall, in which his comments were extremely radical right—he calls Democrats the "Fascist party," for instance—and disturbed me so much that I wrote a column about it.

I mention this donor, who only gave $250, because when someone with those views show up as a contributor to a black Democratic candidate for mayor, it feels like something people should know. I in no way believe Lee subscribes to those views and probably didn't even know about Tharp's myriad of similar postings.

So, the ultimate factcheck conclusion about Lee as a "Rankin County Republican"? He does not live in Rankin County, and he is currently a Democrat. But a lot of Republicans in and outside Jackson want him to be elected and are willing to write checks to help make it happen. That part cannot be disputed.


Following are some of the larger donors to Lee and examples of Republicans they've also contributed to in recent years?

Leland Speed 61,550 Harper, Nunnelee, Wicker, RNC, Romney, Giuliani, Haley's PAC, Cochran, McCain

James Creekmore 134,050 RNC, Wicker, Harper, Nunnelee, Palazzo, McCain, Haley's PAC, Cochran

Gloria Walker 125,300 Wicker, Haley PAC, RNC, McCain, Romney

Robbie Hughes 113,495 RNC, Harper, Wicker, Nunnelee, Perry, Romney, Gingrich

([Read details about Lee's Top 10 donors here.])[12]

A large chunk of Lee's campaign war chest went to the Southern Research Group:

Southern Research Group is a Jackson-based marketing research and consulting firm. SRG and its president, Dan C. Davis, have given more than $15,000 to Republicans in state political races since 1999. Recipients include Tate Reeves, Phil Bryant, former Gov. Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Republican Party. In 2008, Davis also contributed to the federal election campaigns of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, both Republicans. In that timeframe, Davis and SRG did not give to any Democratic candidates, records show.

See more Factcheck posts and stories about the city elections posted on the JFP's new Factcheck Jackson Facebook page. Send factcheck questions, answers and corrections to ladd@jacksonfreepress.com.

Comments

donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

I should make it clear that I couldn't care less if Lee or Quinn voted Republican in the past. I've voted Republican, and we've endorsed Republicans. I am more concerned about who gives money to candidates and what promises they'll end up expected to fulfill. And something must be said to get staunch wealthy Republicans like Leland Speed and Leslie Lampton to endorse a Democrat. Wish I could be a fly on THAT wall.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

Note: The above story is now updated with more information about Lee's contention that his three opponents other than Johnson voted Republican; more information about his Rankin County car tag; and some details about when he ran his family's business.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

Also, we'd really like to know the name of that parent company in Rankin County where he told us his car was registered from 2011-12. Someone have him get in touch so we can add it to this Factcheck.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

BTW, we should have the numbers on how much the contributors gave to Dems since 2008 by tomorrow. Check back if you're interested.

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kdavis 4 years, 7 months ago

It's a shame that you can't give as much scrutiny to Chokwe Lumumba's donor list as you have Jonathan Lee's. Maybe that should be the strategy for future candidates...don't submit any reports. (1) Is it against the law for Republican donors to contribute to a Democrat? Especially in a race where there is no Republican candidate. (2) Of the $1.23 million contributed to Republicans, what percentage of that was contributed to Richard Mourdock? I'm guessing that it was significantly below 1%. It seems like you are grasping at straws trying to draw a direct line from Mourdock to Jonathan Lee. (3) You seem to be obsessed with Leland Speed's political contributions. Leland is a very generous guy who has done a lot of good for Jackson and the state of Mississippi. I don't think receiving a contribution from Leland Speed is a bad thing.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

kdavis:

  1. Chokwe Lumumba has not produced his 2013 campaign-finance report yet for us to analyze. He is in our Hall of Shame for it.

  2. Of course, it isn't against the law for Republicans to donate to Democrats. We didn't say it was. But it is news when a black Democrat overwhelmingly draw white Republican money. It was when Melton did it, and it is now. People can decide for themselves what they think about it.

  3. I'll have to check the Mourdock number for you. The point isn't the amount (notice my Tharp point); it's that he is a well-known national figure these donors gave money to. Not trying to draw a direct connection; showing examples of who the donors also gave money to.

  4. We're not obsessed with Leland Speed's political contributions. But he is a consistent local Republican on Lee's donor lists and the 20/20 PAC. And many of our readers know who he is and have followed his history in Jackson. Some love him; some not so much. Again, it's up to the reader to decide what they think.

We are reporting the news, kdavis. The people can decide what they think about it. And we're clearing up some misconceptions about Lee along the way as well.

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kdavis 4 years, 7 months ago

But Donna, you have devoted much more space on your website to discuss Lee's donor list (which he submitted in a timely manner) than you have to Lumumba's failure to file any report. You are reporting the news but in my humble opinion, it does not seem very balanced. And let me say that I am not a big fan of any of these candidates nor have I contributed a penny to anyone's campaign.

Why is it news that Lee has received in your words "overwhelmingly draw white Republican money"? What are white Republicans supposed to do? Pay the lions share of property taxes in the city, shut up and not support any candidate? Again, in my opinion, Mr. Lee sought the support of NE Jackson holding neighborhood meetings. I don't recall any of the other candidates doing such.

Finally, about Mourdock, the MONEY IS THE POINT. I suspect that out of all those white Republican contributors, there was one knucklehead who gave him $100. Yet in bold print you point out that some evildoer gave money to Jonathan Lee and Richard Mourdock as if Jonathan Lee shares the same crazy views on rape as Mourdock. All I ask is that you be fair and report all the mud on all of the candidates. I think that we can agree that all of these candidates have done things in their past that gives you heartburn. Personally, I think the bigger story here is Lumumba's failure to file any report as of the eve of the election. It seems like he should be disqualified if he makes it to the runoff.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

kdavis, I'm really too busy right now to argue the same points over and over with you. I have factcheck requests coming in steadily, and that's more important than saying the same thing over and over again to someone who doesn't really want to hear my answer.

Last time: Republicans can give to anyone they want as long as they do it legally and report it. But it is the public's right to know who is backing their candidates and what their political tendencies. And I can't imagine anyone trying to argue with that with a straight face. It is news and kinda big news.

As for Lumumba and the Hall of Shame (not to mention the Jackson-Kush plan), I have his supporters mad at me from this site to the national Facebook page of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement because I've been pushing on him to both file his report and because I believe people have the right to know his views. I pushed it through social media all weekend. So go bark up somebody's else's tree. I have work to do instead of answering all this petty whining about us reporting real information. I've been dodging that hoohaa for days now, and my patience for it is thin. I'm an investigative journalist and editor, and I make news decisions that have exposed corrupt mayors, help put Klansmen in prison and won the JFP dozens of national awards (including for how we cover city elections every four years).

I don't really care if you don't like those decisions, kdavis. Figure it out.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

Oh, and consider this, all: Had a media outlet suddenly discovered that President Obama's contributors by far gave more money to Republican candidates, including the above ones, it would be a story, no? People would be scraping and clawing to know why. And they should.

So how in the world on a local level when someone is prominently running as a DEMOCRAT (huge on his signs) could it not be at least remotely interesting to people that his financial support base is largely Republican?

He also wrote a check for $140,000 to his own campaign on March 29 in the middle of having big financial issues around his company and getting subpoenas for it—the same month Judge Priester issued a subpoena for him to appear in court for not paying his company's debts from when he was president.

Where did the money come from? Was it a loan? If so, from whom? We've asked him, but he hasn't responded.

These are important transparency questions for a would-be public servant, and we just cannot apologize for asking them of him or anyone.

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kdavis 4 years, 7 months ago

More petty whining here..the problem with your hypothetical about Obama is that there is no Republican running for Mayor of Jackson. Who are these people supposed to support?

I repeat this point too. It is my observation that Lee worked harder than any of the other candidates to get the support from the "white Republicans". What is your problem with that?

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

Kdavis, are you intentionally not listening to me? How many times do I have to say that they can give money to Lee if they want to. That's not the point. People have the right to know if a candidate is overwhelmingly supported by a party different than the one they are running under. Period.

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kdavis 4 years, 7 months ago

Also, I agree with you that people have a right to know who is supporting a candidate. At least we know where Lee's money is coming from. On the other hand, no one knows where Lumumba's money is coming from and the election is tomorrow. That's why I asked you several days ago about what is the penalty for not filing a report? Apparently there is no penalty and Lumumba can cruise into the runoff never filing a report.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

The campaign-finance laws never seem to be enforced, kdavis. Call the secretary of state' office and ask them why. Then call the House and the Senate and the governor and ask them to put some teeth in the laws -- and good luck because it benefits all of them for the laws to be so loose.

We think it's disgusting and that the aloof attitudes about it are despicable. The only way we know to respond is public pressure.

I'm never forget four years ago this week when we had to force the Better Jackson PAC at the last minute to file the reports revealing who was paying for the scary crime mailers in support of Marshand Crisler. I truly did not expect it to be made up largely of McGowan Working Partners who wanted him to support Two Lakes without question. We fought hard to reveal that information, and it worked. It also told voters who he might have been beholden to, certainly in time for the run-off.

I am concerned about a lot of Republican money, especially from outside Jackson, having too much influence on the mayor's office and the decisions we make -- like saying OK to a racist sales-tax commission or selling off the waterworks plant. Damn right I am. Everyone oughta be, but lots of folks can't get past personality. It was the same with Melton; folks liked him so they elected a "loose cannon" who happened to be incompetent at running the finances and government. Look where that got us.

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kdavis 4 years, 7 months ago

I think we agree about the importance of reporting. But Lee's donors were not very shocking to me. I think I even attended a couple of his fund raisers in my neighborhood. I know some of the people on his list and overall I would say that their intentions are good. Speaking on behalf of NE Jackson, we were thrilled that a candidate would come by and listen to our concerns. I can't recall Harvey Johnson ever doing that.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am more concerned about a candidate who does not file a report. I would also bet you that Lumumba is attracting a large percentage of his money from out of state too. Maybe that's why he has not filed.

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darryl 4 years, 7 months ago

Dear Jackson,

Your IQ test begins at 0700. I, your native but moved-away son, eagerly await your decision. Should you fail, and we (your neighbors to the north and east) assume you will, congratulations! For all of your proclamations and exhortations, you have done nothing whatsoever to bring about meaningful progression to our Capitol city. Good luck, Be Blessed and inshallah. Whatever.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

Same to y'all, Darryl. How long has Mayor Mayor been in place? 30 years? ;-)

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

And kdavis, you just proved my point. You made your own decision about what you think about Lee's donors. Others can do the same -- if they know about them.

By the same token, I agree totally about Lumumba not falling his report or anyone not filing them on time for people to look at them. Completely irresponsible. I can hold both those thoughts at once: let's scrutinize donors; and let's make sure reports are filed. In fact, they're two sides of the same coin.

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jcaudle 4 years, 7 months ago

Polarization in America is absolutely ridiculous right now. How many times has the media blasted congressional republicans for voting politically instead of rationally? Everyone is either all the way right or all the way left and anyone that appears somewhat moderate gets racked across the coals. I am personally voting for Johnson because I believe he knows this city and has several commitments in progress that will move us forward. I do however; commend Lee for gaining bipartisan support. How many often do we hear politian’s talk about reaching across the aisle but rarely do anything that will make them look weak to their own party. If this is news, it is complementary. How much does party politics affect a city election anyway? It doesn’t really matter what their stance on social issues are to effectively run a city. We’re worried about issues like crime and street repairs. Campaign finance reports would be a bigger story anyway. When I ran for constable in the last election, my opponent refused to file also. No one on the state level would enforce this law on the county level. Neither would Barbara Dunn’s office. The AG’s office told me that since he was breaking the law I could file charges but by the time it went to court the election was over. The judge stated that even though he was clearly in violation of state law, the election was over and it he didn’t see any reason to go forward. So Lee would obviously be better off if he was to ignore this law since no one will enforce it anyway. He did turn in the required reports and because he has received republican support, he’s not a real democrat in the eyes of the media. I’m sure if we had Lumumba’s finance reports there would be all sorts of questionable donors for the media to take aim at but we don’t. Lumumba gets put on a naughty list while the candidate that is obeying the law gets all kinds of negative stories about his association with all those horrible conservatives.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

We don't like partisanship, either, jcaudle. But please remember that the elections today are actually PARTY primaries. Thus, it is very relevant news if a candidate in one party's primary is largely backed by members of another party. That's just fact. I'm cool if we away with parties and primaries altogether, but until we do, we will report this kind of news rather than hide it from voters as some would prefer.

Lumumba's report finally came in this morning. One of our reporters is about to go through it and see what's there.

We agree that candidates should be disqualified from the ballot if they don't file reports on time. They are thumbing their noses at the people's right to know when they do that. Lumumba has been one of the worst offenders this year.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

kdavis, you inspired me to post a bit more information about exactly where some of Lee's biggest donors also contributed money to recently:

Leland Speed 61,550 Harper, Nunnelee, Wicker, RNC, Romney, Giuliani, Haley's PAC, Cochran, McCain

James Creekmore 134,050 RNC, Wicker, Harper, Nunnelee, Palazzo, McCain, Haley's PAC, Cochran

Gloria Walker 125,300 Wicker, Haley PAC, RNC, McCain, Romney

Robbie Hughes 113,495 RNC, Harper, Wicker, Nunnelee, Perry, Romney, Gingrich

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kdavis 4 years, 7 months ago

I'm glad that I inspired you so much! But none of this information is shocking. I think you're trying to stir up a controversy where there is none. This would be news if there was a Republican running and these people were trying to back a weak Democrat that a Republican could easily beat. But that's not the case in this election at all, there is no Republican. So again I ask you what are these people supposed to do, 1)not support or vote for anyone, 2)pool all their money and distribute it evenly to all of the candidates (you probably like this idea) or 3) pick and support the candidate that they think can lead this city out of the abyss that it is in. They chose option 3 and there's nothing wrong with that.

Did you find which knucklehead gave money to Mourdock?

I know that you are under a severe time constraint since Mr. Lumumba finally decided to submit his report this morning but it would be interesting to see who his supporters have backed in previous elections. I scanned his list quickly this morning and noticed several out of state contributors and a fair number with no address.

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

kdavis, you're being so dramatic. We're not trying to shock; we are trying to inform. It sounds you just want to keep information to ourselves. Er, no.

R.L. is doing a blog post on Lumumba's report when he gets to it. He had to report on stayed execution first, which is more important.

Things are crazy here today. I was able to post new info above because person helping me with it got it done. We have a long list of analysis we're working on, and it will continue into the runoff.

And, no, it's news when Republicans sink that much money into a Democratic primary regardless of whether there's a Republican primary. Fact.

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pibbb 4 years, 7 months ago

I do not understand why knowing the past voting records of Lee's, or anyone's, donors is important. You suggest a donor may be donating to a particular candidate in exchange for some payback down the line. Well, duh. Anyone voting for anyone running does so expecting their candidate to make good on his/her promises. That's the (i suppose boring) payback.

If you have any proof that candidate X has promised donor Y something specific like a job, or a contract, or a promotion, tell us. If Robbie Hughes, or Leland Speed or James Creekmore or Gloria Walker traded their votes for a seat next to the Mayor at his Prayer Breakfast, and you have a smoking gun or email to prove so, hell yes..tell us!

But to just throw out there that you "wonder" about "who gives money to candidates and what promises they'll end up expected to fulfill", in a series of posts about Lee's specific donors... that's innuendo, better suited for a dinner conversation.

You yourself have often been the subject of such bogus "wondering(s)"

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donnaladd 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, considering that nearly all the major candidates, including Jonathan Lee, accused each other of "voting Republican" at least once, it rather makes it news. If the campaigns and their supporters hadn't talked about, this factcheck would have never happened.

Nope, no evidence that anyone has promised anyone anything; that's not what we were reporting. We're reporting about rather impressive Republican activity in a Democratic primary.

This is my blog post, though, and I do wonder about that kind of stuff. All the time. About people in any party (I dislike all parties). I'm an investigative editor and reporter. We wonder, by definition. And I also wonder in dinner conversations -- and often find out a lot of stuff as a result. So I will continue to do both, and there is nothing bogus about that.

Bottom line: This is important news, folks, and all this attacking-the-messenger ain't gonna change that. If you knew anything about the JFP, you'd know that you're blowing hot air by trying to silence or scold us on this or anything.

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shbkyn 4 years, 6 months ago

I guess he dosen't have any money to show like Lee, when you have rich Republican backing you like Lee, sure he is in a hurry to show all his money, and he is using the money to buy Democratic votes, to try to win the election.

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