Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Friday called on his Republican primary opponent U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis to return $213,000 from a donor whose business is now under question.
Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja is the CEO of California-based Allied Wallet, an e-commerce website with a client list that includes a debt collector that demanded payments from people who never took out loans, an offshore gambling company, porn sites and a phone-sex business that served men with diaper and rape fantasies, according to a story published Thursday by the Associated Press.
The Lebanese-born businessman is among the largest donors to DeSantis' campaign for governor. He has personally contributed $113,000 to DeSantis and a political action committee aligned with his campaign, including a $10,000 check on July 20. DeSantis' political committee received another $100,000 through E-Payment Solutions, Inc., a company Khawaja registered in 2007.
Prior to this election cycle, Khawaja had primarily donated to Democrats, including $4 million in donations to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
"DeSantis continues to accept contributions from seedy swamp liberal donor Ahmad Khawaja," Putnam spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said in a press release Friday. "With disturbing new information revealed about Mr. Khawaja, it would be in the Congressman's best interest to disavow his top liberal donor and return the $213,000 in contributions."
DeSantis' campaign has not responded to questions about the donations. Campaign manager Brad Herold had previously told Politico that Khawaja and DeSantis knew each other.
"(Khawaja) gave to Democrats in the past, but like a lot of disaffected moderates and former Democrats, he loves President Trump," Herold told Politico in May. "He supports Ron's campaign because he's the only person running who's proven he'll stand up for the President."
According to the AP story, Khawaja began donating to Republicans after a lunch with Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy.
Broidy served on DeSantis' national fundraising team. However, Broidy stepped away from the campaign, DeSantis spokesman Dave Vasquez previously told the Times/Herald, and his position in the Republican National Committee after the Wall Street Journal reported he paid $1.6 million to a woman he impregnated and then helped get an abortion.
Khawaja's company, Allied Wallet, denied any wrongdoing and told the AP its inquiry was "a political hit job due to the Allied Wallet's contribution to President Donald Trump's inauguration and support of his tax cut agenda."
The AP reported that internal documents showed Allied Wallet helped hide the tracks of businesses in ways that circumvented bank and credit card rules. It created dormant shell companies for clients and taught them how to get around compliance checks for financial institutions.
In some instances, the company was warned its actions could be illegal, the report said, and its tactics appeared intended to flout U.S. laws to prevent money laundering.
Trailing in the polls weeks before the Aug. 28 primary, Putnam's campaign has been on the offensive of late. The campaign has criticized DeSantis' campaign for its connections to the billionaire Koch brothers, who for a decade helped bankroll conservative candidates across the country but lately have caught the ire of President Donald Trump.
On Friday, the Putnam campaign released a new ad casting DeSantis as a Washington creature, calling him "D.C. DeSantis."
The ad highlights DeSantis' vote to raise the debt ceiling for three months in 2013 while Republicans and President Barack Obama negotiated a budget deal. The bill also withheld pay from members of Congress if they did not pass a budget.
Times/Herald staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.