Published October 30, 2012
UPDATE - Heck giving Knight donation to SafePlace shelterBrad Shannon
Democratic congressional candidate Denny Heck is giving a $3,500 campaign contribution received from Yelm-based spiritualist JZ Knight to the SafePlace’s sexual and domestic violence program in Olympia. Knight’s comments about Catholics, gays, Mexicans and Jews have prompted other Democrats to also forfeit her campaign contributions, which she began making in 2012. Heck’s campaign spokesman Phil Gardner said in an email today: “On Friday Denny made arrangements to donate the entirety of the contribution to SafePlace Olympia, a non-profit that works to assist survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.” Heck, a Democrat from Olympia, is running in the 10th Congressional District against Republican Dick Muri of Steilacoom, who had called on Heck to give back the funds and denounce the comments. Asked about Knight’s disparaging comments that were featured on videos, Gardner said: “No matter the context, the comments made were hurtful, very hurtful. This donation hopefully turns that hurt into some good.” Spokesmen for Knight and her Ramtha School of Enlightenment have said her remarks were taken out of context during a talk about the sexual abuse by Catholic priests and that she has always supported gays and lesbians. Heck's donation money will be earmarked for SafePlace’s capital campaign, which has raised about $2.4 million of the $4.7 million it needs for a new community service center, executive director Mary Pontarolo said today. “I think it’s an opportunity to say to the community – this is what happens when you try to hurt people with your language. Good programs like ours will redirect it to good,’’ Pontarolo said. The SafePlace service-center project could break ground in late 2013 and open the next year if fundraising continues, Pontarolo said. She said it will have classrooms for educational events, space for support groups and room for an onsite child care. Heck’s move to dump the contributions follows similar actions by the Washington State Democratic Party, which announced Friday it is giving $35,000 received from Knight to the Anti-Defamation League and $35,000 to the Referendum 74 gay-marriage campaign. State Senate candidate Bruce Lachney of Eatonville said late Sunday he is donating $3,600 received from Knight and her Ramtha School of Enlightenment to unspecified “educational scholarships.” That leaves Thurston County commissioner Sandra Romero, a Democrat from Lacey, alone among South Sound Democrats holding onto the $3,600 Knight and the school contributed to her re-election campaign. Romero said in this story she does not see bigotry coming from Knight and the school. Republican Andrew Barkis is challenging Romero for the seat. The woman who released the first video depicting Romero and Knight in spliced footage is not part of his campaign but has done volunteer work for him, Barkis told The Olympian. Two other videos showing Knight talking about gay men and also Mexican immigrants are on the web site of the Freedom Foundation, a hard-right group that has been critical of Romero’s positions on land use rules. UPDATE on original 1:07 p.m. post: State Republican chairman Kirby Wilbur says his Democratic counterpart, Dwight Pelz, has not gone far enough in divesting itself of Knight’s donations. In an email to reporters he said, in part:
“I stood ready to praise Chairman Pelz for making the right decision in donating the money, but it looks like he was really just trying to pull one over on us,” said WSRP Chairman Kirby Wilbur. “Dwight knows as well as I do that giving up the $35,000 from the soft dollar account is nothing more than a ceremonial gesture. That account is filled with big donations from unions, corporate entities, and PAC’s and can easily be replenished by any of those groups. The tainted money he took from Knight is still being used to directly help his candidates and his party, and it’s wrong. The Washington Democrats tried to make the media and the voters think that they were doing the right thing – it’s completely disingenuous. I know as well as anybody how valuable every dollar is to a campaign, but no political party should need funds so badly that it becomes okay to take money from a person such as Knight. Dwight is dancing with the devil, and in turn, so are his candidates.”Wilbur went on to urge commissioner Romero, the Democratic National Committee and President Obama to return any donations they have received. Benton Strong, spokesman for the state Democrats, did not dispute that the donation to R-74 was made from soft-money accounts. But he said the party is following through on its promise to donate $70,000 received from Knight to other causes. “We've strongly condemned her remarks and are contributing $35,000 to R-74 and $35,000 to the Anti-Defamation League, as we've pledged to do,” Strong wrote in an email. Strong then equated the money from Knight with donations that Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna has received from oil interests. And he took a shot at the GOP's opposition to R-74 and gay marriage. “Has McKenna returned the Tesoro money yet? Has Kirby or McKenna stopped planning to discriminate against gays and lesbians on their ballot yet?” Strong asked. But Meredith Kenny, spokeswoman for the state Republicans, said that is a pathetic and absurd comparison. She wrote:
Tesoro is a traditional, legitimate energy company that contributed roughly $50 million in taxes to Washington state in 2011, and employs roughly 600 people in the state with good, family-wage jobs. JZ Knight/Ramtha is a cult leader who spews venom and hate. The Democrats are comparing apples and acid. They like to claim that they are the party of tolerance and acceptance, but it appears that only applies when they arent profiting heavily from it.But the Democrats have been critical of McKenna and a big fundraiser for him in Texas in June that included Tesoro, payday lenders and other interest groups. Tesoro manages a refinery in Washington state where seven workers were killed in an explosion in April 2010. The company was fined $2.39 million and state investigators found the accident was preventable.