Having railed against Washington throughout his campaign, congressional candidate Mike Pompeo is taking heat from rivals over a fundraiser held for him at the home of onetime Iran-Contra defendant Robert "Bud" McFarlane.
The April 20 event was co-hosted by former GOP presidential candidate John McCain, former federal officials, lobbyists, consultants and political action committees. According to the Center for Responsive Politics and other sources, they represent a variety of domestic and international interests.
Pompeo's opponents for the Republican nomination in the Kansas 4th District say the $500-a-person or $1,000-a-PAC fundraiser cements Pompeo — who serves on the Republican National Committee — as the type of Washington insider he has repeatedly criticized in his campaign appearances.
"Isn't that what's wrong with our country, taking money from lobbyists, (including) lobbyists who represent interests outside the country?" said candidate Jim Anderson, a small-business owner.
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Pompeo, a graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School, characterized the fundraiser as a get-together of people he knows through service connections.
"These are military friends," Pompeo said. "These are folks I've known from my time in the service and from service-related groups that I continue to be involved in, who are helping to keep our country safe.
"They certainly want to see someone who's a veteran elected from Kansas Four, and they're doing everything they can to make sure that that happens."
Many of the co-hosts of the fundraiser do have military backgrounds.
However, almost all of them are now either registered lobbyists or leaders of other groups seeking to influence U.S. policies, primarily on defense and energy, Eagle research has found.
Pompeo initially said it was "not true" that his fundraiser hosts were lobbyists. Later, he acknowledged "that may be the case," but said it's not the context in which he knows them.
"The way that I knew them was through connections that I've had through my time in the service, and that would be the connection that caused them to jump out on my behalf," he said.
The amount of money raised by the fundraiser was not immediately available, but will have to be disclosed in an upcoming campaign finance report in July.
Sudan ties questioned
McFarlane is known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during his tenure as national security adviser to former President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
He was convicted of lying to Congress about the administration's plan to sell arms to Iran and divert proceeds to the Contras, a guerrilla movement then waging war against the leftist government in Nicaragua.
McFarlane was pardoned by Reagan's successor, President George H.W. Bush.
McFarlane resurfaced last fall in Washington Post reports that he had signed a deal with the Middle East nation of Qatar to help broker a peace settlement on behalf of the government of Sudan.
The Darfur region of Sudan is the site of a bloody ethnic conflict that human rights advocates say has caused hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and displaced millions of people. Sudan's president, Omar Al-Bashir, is under an International Criminal Court indictment charged with crimes against humanity.
A disclosure form filed with the Justice Department indicated McFarlane's consulting company, McFarlane Associates, would receive $2.47 million to assist Qatar "in its efforts to broker a peaceful settlement between the government of Sudan and the people of Darfur, to include securing the assistance of respected U.S. third parties toward this objective."
Pompeo said McFarlane's son, Scott, worked for him when he was chief executive of Thayer Aerospace. He said he finds nothing troubling in the senior McFarlane's background.
"Bud McFarlane is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former national security adviser for President Reagan," Pompeo said. "And I am proud to have him helping me get elected."
But state senator and 4th District candidate Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said the connection to McFarlane — with his connection to Sudan — is a troubling development in a state where the legislature voted to divest itself of any investment interests involving that country.
"I'm pretty shocked to learn that the host of this fundraiser was someone who has been working with the governments of Qatar and Sudan," Schodorf said. "We voted to cease any investment and divest the state of Kansas. I voted against any business interests with Sudan."
PACs and lobbyists
Two of the co-hosts listed in the fundraiser invitation were the Devon Energy PAC and Build-PAC, the political wing of the National Association of Homebuilders.
The Center for Responsive Politics database listed the builders as the No. 12 PAC in America for contributions made in the 2008 election cycle.
Among the individual co-hosts were former Labor Secretary William Brock, former Federal Trade Commissioner Orson Swindle and former Wisconsin Sen. Robert Kasten, all of whom are or recently were involved in international consulting companies.
The host list also included several registered federal lobbyists. According to the center's database, they represent some of America's most powerful corporations including AT&T, General Motors, FedEx, General Dynamics, Charter Communications, Comcast, Global Crossing, Johnson & Johnson, and Koch Industries.
"That's a very impressive list, to say the least," said candidate Wink Hartman, a prominent Wichita-area businessman. "My mouth is hanging open a little."
He said he was "very disturbed" to see major PACs and lobbyists getting involved in the 4th District race and added it "may or may not affect his (Pompeo's) future in Washington" if he's elected.
All three competing Republican candidates said they don't think the fundraiser matched up with Pompeo's oft-repeated anti-Washington campaign message.
"If that's not the definition of hypocrisy, I don't know what is," Anderson said.
He and the others said they have not sought contributions from federal lobbyists or PACs.
In one recent forum, Pompeo said he decided to seek the office because "I watched what was going on in Washington D.C. I came to believe our leaders there had lost their way. They had become disconnected from the things I knew had made America great.
"The call of the day had become getting re-elected. The primary focus was perpetuation of the beast in Washington, D.C."