A South Florida charity has withdrawn a high-profile fund-raising invitation to Lt. Col. Allen West, the prominent conservative locked in a tough race against incumbent Democrat Rep. Ron Klein in Florida's 22nd District.
West says politics influenced the charity's decision, and he is demanding a letter of apology to his wife.
"I was upset that I would have to convey the news to my wife Angela and our daughters, Aubrey and Austen, that we were being denied an honor," West told Newsmax in an e-mail on Tuesday. "I was angry that individuals would politicize and blackmail a charitable organization supporting a disease affecting American children."
West and his wife had accepted an invitation from the South Florida Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to be honored in the organization's South Florida Finest Couple fundraiser.
But West tells Newsmax that he received a call on Monday from the foundation’s executive director, informing him the charity had received complaints that he was scheduled to honored. West was told that major donors had complained it would "politicize" the event.
West was told that, if he did not step aside, it could cost the foundation up to $200,000 in donations. West consented and agreed not to participate in the event.
West now says he has an e-mail trail that proves the individual behind those complaints to the foundation was Klein's wife. He says she prodded prominent donors to voice objections.
Laurie Fink, national media relations director for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, stated in an e-mail to Newsmax: "Under federal tax law that governs nonprofit organizations, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation may not support, oppose or endorse any candidate for office — or hold an event that gives the appearance of these activities.
"The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation National Office is evaluating why policies in place were not adhered to in the planning of the event in South Florida. No candidates running for office should have been invited as honorees to this event."
But West maintains the event has honored political figures before. Research suggests he is correct.
One of last year's First Couple nominees, for example, was GOP Rep. Adam Putnam and his wife, Melissa, according to BrowardNetOnline.com.
About eight months before last year's event, which took place in October, Putnam announced that he would be resigning from Congress and would run for state agriculture commissioner. According to Putnam's Web, he filed to run for the commissioner's job in February 2009. His candidacy was prominently covered in the media, and he will be on the ballot in November.
Others honored as First Couple nominees last year included Gov. Charlie Crist, who was already widely rumored to be making a Senate run at that point; Weston City Commissioner Angel Gomez, who serves as a board member of the Weston Democratic Club; and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who is running for attorney general this year.
One of the donors West says was prodded to complain about him to the foundation released a statement Tuesday confirming that she did so, according to the Broward-Palm Beach NewTimes political blog.
The donor said she had objected to his participation because the event had become "unnecessarily politicized." Whatever role, if any, Klein's wife might have had in encouraging the complaint was not addressed.
On Thursday afternoon, Fink sent a news release to Newsmax stating that the foundation also asked Florida state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Democrat running for attorney general in Florida, to step down from participation in the event as well. Gelber agreed, according to the news release.
"After assessing the situation, we determined that honoring these candidates during the campaign season could be construed as an endorsement," the release stated. "We regret the decision to invite them as honorees so close to the election."
It added: "We apologize to Sen. Gelber, Lt. Col. West, and their families and supporters, and we look forward to working with them in the future."
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