Democrats In Arizona Have Accepted More Than $100,000 From Individuals Connected To Controversial Website Backpage

In April 2017, a story in the Arizona Republic revealed that individuals connected to the controversial website Backpage, which was held in contempt by the U.S. Senate in 2016, have become major backers of Democratic candidates in Arizona.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who is now running for the very chamber that held the company in contempt, “was the biggest individual beneficiary of their donations in Arizona,” the newspaper reported, referring to the website’s owners.

See below for a select list of Backpage-tied campaign contributions to Arizona Democrats since President Obama’s second term:

Recipient Contributor Date Amount
Warren Stewart Scott Spear 05/26/13 $450
Kyrsten Sinema Don Moon 07/18/13 $2,600
Kyrsten Sinema Don Moon 07/18/13 $2,600
Kyrsten Sinema Michael Lacey 08/20/13 $2,600
Kyrsten Sinema Michael Lacey 08/20/13 $2,600
Justin Johnson Don Moon 09/15/13 $2,500
Ron Barber Don Moon 11/10/13 $500
Ann Kirkpatrick Don Moon 03/12/14 $1,000
Fred DuVal Don Moon 07/21/14 $2,000
Fred DuVal Don Moon 07/21/14 $2,000
Mary Rose Wilcox Don Moon 08/05/14 $2,000
Felecia Rotellini Don Moon 08/14/14 $2,000
Felecia Rotellini Don Moon 08/14/14 $2,000
Ruben Gallego Don Moon 09/29/14 $2,600
David Garcia Don Moon 09/29/14 $2,000
Arizona List PAC Don Moon 10/02/14 $100
David Garcia Michael Lacey 10/07/14 $2,000
Dems. Of Red Rocks Michael Lacey 05/01/14 $5,000
Ruben Gallego Michael Lacey 10/14/14 $2,600
Kyrsten Sinema Don Moon 01/21/15 $2,300
Kyrsten Sinema Don Moon 01/21/15 $2,700
Ann Kirkpatrick Don Moon 02/09/15 $500
Ruben Gallego Don Moon 05/18/15 $2,700
Ruben Gallego Don Moon 05/18/15 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Don Moon 06/26/15 $400
Tom O’Halleran Don Moon 09/05/15 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran Don Moon 09/06/15 $2,700
Victoria Steele Don Moon 12/21/15 $500
Ann Kirkpatrick Don Moon 01/19/16 $2,700
Ann Kirkpatrick Don Moon 01/19/16 $2,700
Matt Heinz Don Moon 02/11/16 $500
Matt Heinz Don Moon 02/17/16 $500
Kyrsten Sinema Don Moon 03/15/16 $5,000
Kirsten Engel Don Moon 06/12/16 $250
Ann Kirkpatrick Margaret Larkin 07/18/16 $2,700
Ann Kirkpatrick Margaret Larkin 07/18/16 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Margaret Larkin 07/18/16 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Margaret Larkin 07/18/16 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Michael Lacey 07/27/16 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Ellona Spear 07/27/16 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Mary Ann Brunst 07/27/16 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Michael Lacey 07/28/16 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Ellona Spear 07/28/16 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Mary Ann Brunst 07/28/16 $2,700
Ann Kirkpatrick Ellona Spear 08/01/16 $2,700
Ann Kirkpatrick Ellona Spear 08/01/16 $2,700
Ann Kirkpatrick Mary Ann Brunst 08/01/16 $2,700
Ann Kirkpatrick Mary Ann Brunst 08/01/16 $2,700
Arizona Dem. Party Michael Lacey 08/03/16 $10,000
Arizona Dem. Party James Larkin 08/03/16 $10,000
Arizona Dem. Party Don Moon 08/03/16 $10,000
Matt Heinz Don Moon 09/06/16 $2,000
Eric Meyer Don Moon 09/09/16 $250
Nikki Bagley Don Moon 09/19/16 $500
Arizona Dem. Party Don Moon 09/23/16 $1,000
Yavapai Cnty. Dems. Don Moon 10/04/16 $1,000
Tom O’Halleran Scott Spear 10/05/16 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran Ellona Spear 10/05/16 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran John Brunst 10/17/16 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran Troy Larkin 10/19/16 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran Ramon Larkin 10/19/16 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran Heather Larkin 10/19/16 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran Ellona Spear 01/05/17 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Don Moon 01/12/17 $2,700
Kyrsten Sinema Don Moon 01/12/17 $2,700
Ruben Gallego Don Moon 01/31/17 $2,700
Ruben Gallego Don Moon 01/31/17 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran Don Moon 01/31/17 $2,700
Tom O’Halleran Don Moon 01/31/17 $2,700
ASDCEC Don Moon 07/21/17 $1,000

See below for coverage of the contributors in the table above:

Michael Lacey And James Larkin Are The Co-Founders Of Backpage. “Executives at the advertising website Backpage.com refused to testify before Congress Tuesday following a Senate report that accuses the site of systematically editing its ‘adult’ ads to remove words that indicate sex trafficking. . . . . . . Prosecutors have alleged that more than 90 percent of Backpage’s revenue — millions of dollars each month — comes from adult escort ads that use coded language and nearly nude photos to offer sex for money.” (Matthew Daly, “Backpage Execs Refuse To Testify At Sex-Trafficking Hearing,” Associated Press, 01/10/17)

  • U.S. Senate: Michael Lacey And James Larkin “Retain Significant Financial And Operational Control . . . Through A Complex Chain Of Domestic And International Shell Companies . . . ” “Third, despite the reported sale of Backpage to an undisclosed foreign company in 2014, the true beneficial owners of the company are James Larkin, Michael Lacey, and Carl Ferrer. Acting through a complex chain of domestic and international shell companies, Lacey and Larkin lent Ferrer over $600 million to purchase Backpage from them. But as a result of this deal, Lacey and Larkin retain significant financial and operational control, hold almost complete debt equity in the company, and still receive large distributions of company profits.” (“Backpage (dot) com’s Knowing Facilitation Of Online Sex Trafficking,” United States Senate, 01/09/17)
  • Washington Post: “Backpage Has Always Claimed It Doesn’t Control Sex-Related Ads. New Documents Show Otherwise.” “A contractor for the controversial classifieds website Backpage.com has been aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads, despite Backpage’s repeated insistence that it had no role in the content of ads posted on its site, according to a trove of newly discovered documents. The documents show that Backpage hired a company in the Philippines to lure advertisers — and customers seeking sex — from sites run by its competitors.” (Tom Jackman and Jonathan O’Connell, “Backpage Has Always Claimed It Doesn’t Control Sex-Related Ads. New Documents Show Otherwise,” Washington Post, 07/11/17)
  • Arizona Republic: James Larkin “Cautioned [The CEO] In A 2011 Email About What Would Happen If The Website’s Editing Procedures Were Made Public . . .” “Larkin cautioned Ferrer in a 2011 email about what would happen if the website’s editing procedures were made public. ‘We need to stay away from the very idea of ‘editing’ the posts, as you know,’ Larkin wrote. ‘I want to be certain that you are comfortable with the revelation of the security items. And the general tone.’” (Richard Ruelas, “Emails Reveal How Backpage Edited Sex Ads. Will That Be Its Undoing?” Arizona Republic, 04/15/17)

As Of 2014, The Ownership Of Backpage’s Corporate Parent Was Split Among Michael Lacey, James Larkin, John Brunst, Scott Spear, Troy Larkin, And Ramon Larkin. According to an August 2014 financial analysis obtained and released by the United States Senate, the estimated fair market value of the common equity on a minority, non-marketable interest basis in Medalist Holdings — the ultimate corporate parent of Backpage — was more than $355 million. Michael Lacey owned 54.12 percent, James Larkin owned 42.76 percent, John Brunst owned 5.67 percent, Scott Spear owned 4.09 percent, Troy Larkin owned 1.18 percent, and Ramon Larkin owned 1.18 percent. (“Backpage (dot) com’s Knowing Facilitation Of Online Sex Trafficking,” Page 444, Hearing Before The Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations Of The Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, 01/10/17)

Letter From 46 State Attorneys General: “Don Moon Readily Admitted That Prostitution Advertisements Regularly Appear On Backpage . . .” LETTER: “In fact, in a meeting with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Village Voice Media Board Member Don Moon readily admitted that prostitution advertisements regularly appear on Backpage.com. This shows that the stated representations about the site are in direct conflict with the reality of Backpage’s business model: making money from a service illegal in every state, but for a few counties in Nevada.” (Letter From Attorneys General To Samuel Fifer, National Association Of Attorneys General, 08/31/11)

  • Don Moon, A Board Member Of Village Voice, Met With Government Officials In Seattle In 2011 After The Mayor Expressed Concerns About Backpage. “Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn turned up the heat again Friday on The Seattle Weekly, this time asking the newspaper’s representatives to stop all of its escort ads. . . . He said the company doesn’t do enough to screen ads that run on Backpage.com, which links adult ‘escort’ ads to The Weekly and Seattle area. . . . Over the past 12 months, according to McGinn, more than 180 children were exploited for commercial sex in Seattle. Since the beginning of 2010, 22 children were advertised on Backpage.com, according to a city news release.” (Jeff Hodson, “Mayor McGinn Asks Weekly To Pull All Escort Ads,” Seattle Times, 07/15/11)
  • Mayor McGinn: “We Specifically Asked Them To Pull Down All Ads Until They Have Safeguards Against Underage Trafficking.” “‘We specifically asked them to pull down all ads until they have safeguards against underage trafficking,’ McGinn told reporters after meeting with representatives of The Weekly and its owner, Village Voice Media Holdings. . . . Within the past day, the mayor said, the company’s website displayed three ads featuring known child prostitutes in the Seattle area.” (Jeff Hodson, “Mayor McGinn Asks Weekly To Pull All Escort Ads,” Seattle Times, 07/15/11)

See below for coverage of the recipients in the table above:

Arizona Republic: Kyrsten Sinema Is “The Biggest Individual Beneficiary” Of Donations From The Co-Founders Of Backpage — But “Repeatedly Refused To Answer Any Questions About The Donations.” “All told, the two men have made federal and state political contributions of $162,200 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. She was the biggest individual beneficiary of their donations in Arizona. . . . Sinema’s office repeatedly refused to answer any questions about the donations.” (Sarah Jarvis, Lily Altavena, and Kelsey Hess, “As Allegations Increase Against Backpage, Founders Have Become Big Political Donors In Arizona,” Arizona Republic, 04/14/17)

  • When Sinema Attempted To Give Their Donations Away After The Negative Media Coverage, A Non-Profit Rejected Them. “A non-profit media organization has rejected U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s donation of more than $10,000 given to the Arizona Democrat’s campaign by owners of a website accused of knowingly accepting ads offering sex with underage girls. . . . Last week, Sinema donated $10,600 to Friends of Public Radio Arizona, but on Tuesday morning the non-profit, realizing the source of the money, moved to return it, said Lou Stanley, executive director of the media non-profit.” (Ronald J. Hansen, “U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema Finds New Home For Backpage (dot) com Owners’ Money,” Arizona Republic, 04/18/17)
  • Cindy McCain, Co-Chair Of The Arizona Human Trafficking Council: “I Am Stunned That Congresswoman Sinema Would Take Their Money.” MCCAIN: “I am stunned that Congresswoman Sinema would take their money. She should have known better, but she still took it. 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.” (Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Ronald J. Hansen, “GOP Keeps Up Pressure On Backpage Donations, Offers To Pay Voters’ Way Into Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s Event,” Arizona Republic, 04/19/17)

Arizona Republic: “Ann Kirkpatrick Says She’s Unloading Backpage (Dot) Com Contributions — Months After Others Did.” “Months after other Arizona Democrats unloaded campaign contributions linked to the embattled Backpage.com, Ann Kirkpatrick’s congressional campaign is doing so as well. . . . Backpage.com has been accused of knowingly accepting ads offering sex with underage girls. . . . Records show Kirkpatrick collected her Backpage contributions in July and August in 2016, when she was running for the Senate.” (Ronald J. Hansen, “Ann Kirkpatrick Says She’s Unloading Backpage (dot) com Contributions — Months After Others Did,” Arizona Republic, 09/26/17)

  • Arizona Daily Star: Kirkpatrick Accepted “Thousands Of Dollars Donated By The Spouses Of Backpage (Dot) Com Executives . . .” “Ann Kirkpatrick’s congressional campaign will donate thousands of dollars donated by the spouses of BackPage.com executives to nonprofit dedicated to ending sexual and domestic violence. The $16,200 in donations date back to when Kirkpatrick was running for Senate last year, said Rodd McLeod, a spokesman for Kirkpatrick’s current House campaign. The funds will come from what was leftover from her Senate campaign as well as funds the former Congresswoman has raised for her current house run.” (Joe Ferguson, “Kirkpatrick Donates Backpage Funds To Charity,” Arizona Daily Star, 09/27/17)
  • Associated Press: Kirkpatrick Only Gave The Donations Away Several “Months After Other Arizona Democrats Unloaded Campaign Contributions Linked To The Embattled Website.” “Former Arizona congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick says she will donate money linked to Backpage.com that was given to her campaign, months after other Arizona Democrats unloaded campaign contributions linked to the embattled website. . . . Backpage (dot com) has been accused of knowingly accepting ads offering sex with underage girls.” (“Arizona Politician To Donate Backpage-Related Campaign Funds,” Associated Press, 09/26/17)

Arizona Republic: Ruben Gallego Claimed He Was “Not Aware Of The Controversy” About Backpage When He Accepted Their Campaign Donations. “Last week other Democrats also sought to distance themselves from Backpage.com contributions. . . . A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego said the congressman was not aware of the controversy surrounding Backpage in 2014, when Gallego received $2,600 from Lacey.” (Ronald J. Hansen, “U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema Finds New Home For Backpage (dot com) Owners’ Money,” Arizona Republic, 04/18/17)

  • However, Five Months Earlier, Gallego Had Voted On Legislation Regarding Websites Like Backpage. “The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation bill — or SAVE — filed in Congress today targets enterprises such as Backpage, an online and print advertising marketplace that generates more than $37 million a year in revenue and is estimated to garner more than 80 percent of advertising profits generated by the sex trade.” (Nancy Cambria, “Congresswoman Takes Aim At Backpage And Sex Trafficking,” Louis Post-Dispatch, 03/13/14; H. R. 4225, Roll Call Vote #222: Passed 392-19-20, 05/20/14, Gallego Voted Yea)
  • The Sponsor Of The Legislation Specifically Cited Backpage Right Before The House Voted On It. REPRESENTATIVE ANN WAGNER: “Over the last 10 years, prostitution has slowly but persistently migrated to an online marketplace. Classified services, like backpage (dot) com and others, are the vehicles for advertising the victims of the child sex trade to the world. Pimps and traffickers blatantly advertise their victims’ sexual services, with provocative photographs and unsubtle messages, complete with per-hour pricing. The traffickers pay Web sites like Backpage to display their messages.” (Congressional Record, Page H4516, United States House Of Representatives, 05/20/14)

Washington Free Beacon: David Garcia “Took Contributions From Owner Of Site Linked To Underage Prostitution.” “David Garcia, a Democratic candidate for governor in Arizona, accepted campaign contributions from the owner of a website that is tied to underage trafficking and prostitution. . . . When Garcia ran for state superintendent of public instruction in 2014, Lacey gave his campaign $2,000 in donations. Lacey did not contribute to any other state-level candidate that year other than Garcia. Rather, he donated to a Democratic group in Sedona, Arizona and Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego.” (Joe Schoffstall, “Arizona Dem Took Contributions From Owner of Site Linked to Underage Prostitution,” Washington Free Beacon, 04/18/17)

White Mountain Independent: Tom O’Halleran Accepted “Political Donations From People Associated With A Website Suspected Of Promoting Child Sex Trafficking.” “The state Republican Party is faulting Rep. Tom O’Halleran and another Arizona Democratic representative for accepting political donations from people associated with a website suspected of promoting child sex trafficking. . . . Arizona GOP officials said that between October and January, O’Halleran accepted $2,700 from Backpage.com executive John Brunst and $5,400 from Ellona Spear, the wife of another Backpage.com executive. The donations total $8,100.” (Michael Johnson, “AZ GOP: O’Halleran Accepted Money From Ex-Owners Of Alleged Child Sex Trafficking Website,” White Mountain Independent, 04/25/17)

  • Arizona Republican Party: O’Halleran “Absolutely Knew Where The Money Came From . . .” AZGOP: “He and his PAC absolutely knew where the money came from and what it represented; they just didn’t care. Congressman O’Halleran’s constituents deserve someone who represents their interests, not someone who takes money from those affiliated with child sex trafficking.” (Michael Johnson, “AZ GOP: O’Halleran Accepted Money From Ex-Owners Of Alleged Child Sex Trafficking Website,” White Mountain Independent, 04/25/17)

Washington Free Beacon: “Arizona Democratic Party Still Retaining Money From Website Linked To Child Prostitution.” “The Arizona Democratic Party has yet to give away the $40,000 it received from the owner of Backpage (dot) com, a website linked to child prostitution. . . . ‘Kyrsten Sinema should do the right thing and call on the Arizona Democratic Party to return the $40,000 they received from backpage (dot) com,’ [National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Katie] Martin said. ‘It’s an easy choice between right and wrong, so why won’t Sinema speak up?’” (Paul Crookston, “Arizona Democratic Party Still Retaining Money From Website Linked To Child Prostitution,” Washington Free Beacon, 12/13/17)

  • Washington Times: The Arizona Democratic Party “Has Been Under Increasing Pressure” To Return The Campaign Contributions. “Mr. Larkin last year made a single $10,000 contribution to the Arizona Democratic Party, according to federal campaign records. . . . The Arizona and New Mexico parties did not respond to questions about their plans for the Backpage money. The Arizona Democratic Party has been under increasing pressure from its Republican counterpart to return the money or donate it to an appropriate charity. Earlier this year, an Arizona Democratic Party official gave The Arizona Republic the same explanation now used by Mrs. Pelosi’s super PAC: ‘The money had already been spent.’” (S.A. Miller, “Pelosi, Other Democrats Pocket Campaign Cash From Owners Of Sex-Trafficking Website,” Washington Times, 12/17/17)

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