A political action committee linked to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) caved to national pressure to "wash their hands" of dirty money and return a $10,000 contribution from a founder of Backpage.com, a website that has been linked to facilitating sex trafficking and underage prostitution.
Despite Alixandria Lapp, president of the House Majority PAC, telling the Washington Times three weeks ago that it was impossible to give back the tainted money, she wrote a letter the editor of the Orange County Register last week announcing a different story. She said the PAC had donated the money to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, the Times reports.
Coalition CEO Allie Bones said the organization has not yet received the money.
The response from the Pelosi-backed PAC came after an op-ed from Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) calling on the group to renounce the donation.
"It’s time for Pelosi to do the right thing and finally wash her hands of this dirty money," Royce wrote in the Register.
In her letter to the editor, Lapp defended Pelosi, reflecting the sentiment Pelosi chief of staff Drew Hammill expressed in an email to the Times. They both argued the minority leader had nothing to do with soliciting money from the Backpage co-owner or the recent decision to dispose of the cash.
"Leader Pelosi was not involved or aware of this donation when it was made," Hammill said. "Despite the inaccurate assertions of the Washington Times, Leader Pelosi has no control over what funds this PAC accepts nor can she order the PAC to return donations."
Political contributions linked to Backpage have gained increased scrutiny amidst the growing national discussion of sexual harassment.
In a Dec. 17 report, The Times highlighted the Backpage contribution to Mrs. Pelosi’s super PAC, three state Democratic parties and several Arizona Democrats in Congress.
Since 2010, the owners and their wives have shoveled about $99,000 to candidates and about $95,000 to Democratic parties in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, according federal campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Bowing to mounting pressure, including a bipartisan Senate investigation that found the owners knowingly sold ads to pimps who coerce minors into prostitution, Backpage a year ago closed its adult services sections.
Backpage owners, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were also charged on two separate occasions of felony pimping by the state attorney general, now Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D., Calif.).
One week after Harris filed a 2016 lawsuit against Backpage, Larkin made the $10,000 contribution.
A judge later dropped the pimping charges due to federal law that protects sites from certain liability. The company remains in court proceeding surrounding money laundering charges. Court records show the website brings in $2.5 million a month in California alone.
While Backpage shutdown the adult services section, it remains a hotbed for child and sex-trafficking and prostitution. The Times reports:
Detroit police last month arrested two men who were using Backpage to run a sex trafficking ring after an underage girl told police she was brought to the city and put to work as a prostitute, with "dates" arranged on the website.
In June, a Chicago man was arrested after using Backpage to sell a 16-year-old girl who was eventually killed by a client.
Such stories about Backpage are relatively commonplace across the country.
Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) has spearheading legislation to tighten federal law holding websites accountable for using ads that encourage commercial sex and child prostitution. The bill is expected to become law early this year.
None of the state Democratic Parties responded to inquiries from the Times about the tainted Backpage donations. The House Majority PAC disclosed it has 11.4 million dollars of cash on hand, as of Jan. 4.