Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick’s Use of Dirty Campaign Money Is Shameful

This is the second column in a series devoted to exposing the real Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, giving you a peek at the reality that our representative works very hard to keep a secret from his constituents in PA-01.
fec brian fitzpatrick

You can read the first entry, about Brian Fitzpatrick’s virulently anti-Choice votes and actions, HERE.

Earlier this week the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to force billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn to register as a foreign agent for past work he had done on behalf of China. This spurred the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to publicly ask the question Will Fitzpatrick Return Chinese Foreign Agent and Alleged Sexual Abuser Steve Wynn’s Money?” 

To those of us who carefully watch Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick’s campaign antics, the answer to that question was an immediate and emphatic NO. Because no matter how tainted the source of the donation, Brian Fitzpatrick never returns dirty donations to their source. Despite his years of campaigning on his law enforcement background and his talk of “clean government” and “integrity,” Fitzpatrick has a long history of making excuses and keeping the cash.

The first time this issue arose was in July 2018 when a Donald Trump ally and donor named Elliot Broidy was publicly accused of physical abuse and paying a former mistress $1.6 million to terminate a pregnancy. Despite being a former deputy Republican National Committee Finance Chairman, Republican lawmakers dashed to disentangle themselves from Broidy (who was already a convicted felon for a New York bribery scandal), and many returned campaign donations he had made.



The image above is from the Federal Election Commission website. You’ll see that there are negative values under the donation amount – that indicates money refunded to the contributor.  And while one might expect a moral man like John McCain to return tainted donations, you know something is seriously wrong when folks like former Representative Devin Nunes, Senator Ron Johnson and Trump stooge Rudy Guiliani rush to put distance between themselves and a scandal.  But there is a name you won’t see in that list of returned donations: Brian Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick and his communications team were uncommunicative for months about the Broidy debacle and the money they had received from him, handling calls from concerned constituents and members of the press with the same wall of silence. It was only after being cornered by Chris Brennan of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s CLOUT column that we got an answer:

“Clout raised its eyebrows when it learned that the Fitzpatrick campaign in July 2017 took a $5,400 contribution from Elliott Broidy — the same Elliott Broidy who pleaded guilty in 2009 to handing out nearly $1 million in bribes to New York pension officials in a made-for-the-tabloids pay-to-play scandal. After Clout asked about the money, Fitzpatrick’s campaign said it would give the $5,400 to charity.”

This same pattern played itself out again in 2019. Two associates of then-President Donald Trump and Rudy Guiliani, men named Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested for taking money from foreign sources and making illegal donations to U.S. politicians – the men have since pleaded guilty to the scheme to solicit and distribute these illegal donations.  Our own Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick was a recipient of this tainted money from Igor Fruman (who also made donations under the name Igor Furman).

Another recipient of campaign cash from these machinations was Republican Congressman Lloyd Smucker (PA-11). Lancaster Online reported “U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker will ‘absolutely and immediately’ return campaign contributions sent to him during the 2018 election cycle by a South Florida businessman who allegedly circumvented Federal Elections Commission rules to contribute foreign money and influence into state and federal elections.” The reporting also included a quote from Rep. Smucker, who said “under no circumstances does Smucker for Congress knowingly accept improper campaign contributions.” The same article went on to note, “Another congressman, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, announced he will immediately return the $5,400 in contributions he received from the indicted businessmen.”

At the same time as these lawmakers were tripping over themselves to quickly return the straw-donor donations, the Republican National Committee was rushing to distance themselves from the same tainted line items in their own list of donors, as this FEC report shows.  Again, you can see these are refunds by noting the negative number in the Amount field:

5IT2K1kh8xnOVgitNd5H6SaRDEjJ gRPJ57lKlwMe9RjrrPzRlUZxtyZ4hD 7CFvDw8OSi4BgUNb8gTBmHkcMR5u3gbN5sWyikdeRMrB7jeSeVFYKVIfBGfwkhXmJdab b 1KIV0EgezZDF7NQ

But not Brian Fitzpatrick. According to reporting by the Levittown Now, Fitzpatrick’s campaign said that “this money will be immediately donated to charity.”

Would it surprise you to read that this same pattern was enacted in 2021? In the wake of the scandal surrounding the accusations that Congressman Matt Gaetz was involved in trafficking a minor for sex, politicians rushed to return his donations. Most Republicans hurried to distance themselves from Gaetz and his money, but Fitzpatrick’s staff told the Philadelphia Inquirer that there would be no refund, as the money was “being donated to the Bucks County Police Memorial Project.”

Have you detected the pattern? And the three scenarios detailed above are not the only times Brian Fitzpatrick has followed this same behavior – it’s part of his standard playbook now.

Let’s talk about the term “Charity-washing.” It was coined by the president of the Capital Research Center, an organization that researches how non-profit organizations and charities use their money. He was referring to the practice of “using nonprofits and virtue signaling to concoct a noble self-portrait.” A marketing blog put it more bluntly, calling it the practice of “leverag[ing] off the reputation of charities to promote brands without giving much back in return.” In short, charity-washing is spending money on charitable giving to make oneself look good. And what looks better than a lawmaker handing out money to charitable organizations in his own district?

No one is faulting our local charities in this situation. Of course they would accept donations from their representative, though one wonders if Republican Fitzpatrick or his staff ever explained the source of the money he was giving them and the ultimate reason for doing so. And while this practice certainly deviates from normal congressional behavior and ethics, it is not illegal – because lawmakers are notoriously bad at making laws that infringe upon their own ability to raise money for their campaigns.  

When a lawmaker builds his brand around integrity, as Brian Fitzpatrick certainly does, it is critical to point to areas where the reality does not match the branding. And we must all remember this: while his colleagues go to great lengths to return donations and distance themselves from scandalous behavior and donations, Brain Fitzpatrick does the opposite – he just runs all that tainted campaign cash through his charity-washing machine, in the hopes it will make him look clean to his constituents.

Kierstyn Zolfo

Kierstyn Zolfo

Kierstyn Zolfo is a volunteer organizer with Indivisible Bucks County and Pennsylvania Indivisible. She and her husband live in Newtown Township.

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