Florida Republicans accepted donations from ex-congressman who sent lewd messages to underage boys even as party's right wing crusades against 'grooming'
- Republicans are calling Democrats "groomers" for supporting school instruction on sexual orientation.
- But ex-Rep.
Mark Foley, who sent sexually explicit messages to underage pages, donated big money to FloridaRepublicans.
Prominent Republicans have slammed critics of Florida's new sex education bill that critics call "Don't Say Gay" as "groomers" and "pedophiles."
But some Florida Republicans are meanwhile accepting financial contributions from the old campaign committee of an ex-congressman who sent sexually explicit messages to underage boys working as congressional pages.
Former Republican Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned his West
Foley's most recent donation to the Republican Party of Palm Beach County came in January, when his campaign committee gave $15,000, according to an Insider analysis of filings from the Federal Elections Commission.
Palm Beach County encompasses Mar-a-Lago, the private luxury club former President
A representative who answered the phone for the Republican Party of Palm Beach County said it was not the group's policy to talk to the media and "there is no comment." The organization's chair, Michael Barnett, did not respond to emailed questions and did not return a phone call.
The Republican Party of Palm Beach County appears to have previously welcomed Foley into its fold, honoring him in 2019 with a service award at its Lobsterfest dinner in Boca Raton, the Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
In remarks at the event, Trump confidant Roger Stone called Foley a "great American patriot" and "a man who doesn't need to apologize because let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
Earlier this week, the Republican Party of Palm Beach County implored its Facebook followers to "Reclaim our School Board" on issues from "woke activism" to "parental rights." The terms are nebulous, but tend to tap into simmering frustrations on the right that say schools have failed to seek permission from parents when they teach about race relations, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Education issues have become a blazing campaign subject in Florida ever since Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law limiting instructions about sexual orientation and gender in schools, particularly among students in kindergarten through at least third grade.
Critics, who say the language is too vague, have called it the "
Foley did not respond to Insider's inquiry.
Some lawmakers didn't cash the check
Florida House members who have received campaign donations from Foley's committee since 2016 include Republicans Mike Caruso, who received $2,000, and Rick Roth, who received $5,000, but neither responded to Insider's questions about the donations.
Foley also donated $4,130 to the Palm Beach Republican Club, which did not respond to Insider's inquiries.
When Foley earlier this year donated $25,000 to Palm Beach State College to help launch a scholarship in his name for police academy recruits, the college publicly lauded it.
But not every political organization or candidate who received a check accepted it. Rusty Roberts, a longtime US House aide now running for Congress himself, received a $1,000 donation in March but returned it.
"Mr Foley's check was part of a larger group of checks deposited by the campaign administrative staff," Jim Huckeba, Roberts' treasurer, told Insider. "When the candidate learned of the contribution in March, he instructed me to return the contribution to Mr. Foley with his appreciation."
Back in 2016, Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican of Florida, received $2,000 from Foley's campaign committee but publicized that he never cashed the check. His campaign spokesman, Brad Stewart, confirmed the campaign never cashed the check and did not want nor accept Foley's donations.
Mast has been vocal about supporting Florida's school legislation, imploring critics on Twitter to "stop trying to force your views on sexuality onto our children!"
Soon after resigning from Congress, Foley went to rehab for alcohol misuse and emotional issues. His lawyer disclosed that the former congressman had been molested by a Catholic clergyman when he was a teenager, and that Foley was gay — exposing what had already been an open secret on Capitol Hill and in Florida
Foley is now a lobbyist.
As of the first three months of this year — meaning 16 years after leaving office — the Foley campaign committee still had $426,289.38 in cash on hand, filings show.
Foley left Congress with a seven-figure campaign cash reserve. His old campaign committee remains technically active — a situation, seen among many former members of Congress, that good-government organizations have dubbed "zombie campaigns."
Legally, Foley's campaign committee can continue to make political and charitable donations and could conceivably disgorge the remaining cash to the US Treasury's general fund. But Foley isn't permitted to spend the money on himself.
In a 2020 letter to the FEC, Foley's treasurer, Donna Foley Winterson, said Foley didn't intend to run for office again and planned to terminate the account after filing his 2022 tax returns, adding that "a balance deemed adequate to fulfill our 2022 income tax liability will be retained."
Over the years, Foley has slowly but steadily donated his committee's surplus funds to numerous other causes, from the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, to food banks and the gay chorus Voices of Pride in Palm Beach.
Foley told the Sun Sentinel in 2019 that he at times missed being in public service.
"This was my life for so many years," he said. "And you know it's hard to be in a room with people that were your huge supporters and you let them down. So, there's a bit of, you know, sadness."
'Grooming' emerges as GOP attack
While the Republican Party of Palm Beach County appears open to having Foley participate in conservative politics, other factions of the party are weaponizing terms such as "groomer" and "pedophile" following the dispute over Florida's
DeSantis' allies in his office, in conservative politics, and in media outlets such as Fox News have accused opponents of the law of supporting "grooming" children. The term "grooming" typically refers to pedophiles who try to gain the trust of their underage victims so they'll accept sexual assault without telling an adult.
The pro-Republican Political Action Committee American Principles Project used the term "groomed" in a recent fundraising email and several opinion pieces in conservative news outlets have called the legislation the "Anti-Grooming Bill."
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, said she planned to introduce a national version in Congress. This week on Conservative America's Voice she called Democrats "the party of pedophiles."
While Republicans are doubling down on the legislation, insisting that parents should be informed about their children's schooling and any questions they might have about their gender identity and sexuality, Democrats and LGBTQ+ rights organizations say they worry about outing students to families who aren't accepting or might even be violent.
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