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.
Michael G. Lacey, who in 2012 sold his newspaper holdings and spun off the classified ad website Backpage.com into its own entity, has given $162,000 in contributions to a number of Democratic politicians at the state and federal levels since legal problems against the site began to mount, the Arizona Republic reported.
The publication missed one Democratic politician in the state who received funds from Lacey as he began to ramp up his political contributions: David Garcia, who is currently challenging Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
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.
The controversy surrounding Backpage.com boiled over after Arizona State University partnered with the Phoenix Police Department and found that nearly 80 percent of the advertisements posted on the adult services section of the site involved prostitution. The study discovered more than 900 ads for prostitution in Phoenix alone that included ads for girls who were underage.
The site's practices prompted the National Association of Attorneys General to call on Congress in July 2013 to amend federal law to hold companies like Backpage accountable.
The U.S. House of Representative passed legislation in May 2014 to hold companies accountable for knowingly advertising commercial sex acts involving a minor or gaining benefit from such advertisement. The bill's cosponsor, Rep. Ann Wagner (R., Mo.), singled out Backpage as one of the "vehicles for advertising the victims of the child sex trade to the world."
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution in March 2016 pushed by Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) holding Backpage in civil contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena and provide documents detailing how the site was combating trafficking in its ads.
The chief executive officer of Backpage was arrested in October 2016 over the underage sex trafficking allegations. Arrest warrants for Lacey and his business partner were issued that described them as "controlling shareholders" of the website.
Then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a Democratic senator, said Backpage was "purposefully and unlawfully designed" as an online brothel. Harris' office alleged that a "vast majority" of its profits came from fees from users who were posting in the "adult" section.
The website has claimed they had no control over the prostitution advertisements. However, internal emails showed the managers edited advertisements. The group also was more careful when "law enforcement might be closely monitoring."
Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is the only Democratic politician who has given away the money she received from Backpage's owners.
Garcia did not return a request for comment on the donation.
UPDATE Wednesday, April 19: Since publication of this article, Garcia announced the money he received from Lacey would be donated to homeless youth and victims of sex trafficking.