Harris Rejects PETA Request To Return Campaign Money
- Harris Rejects PETA Request To Return Campaign Money
TAMPA - U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris says she won't return $20,000 in
political contributions from New York and Iowa residents linked to a
slaughterhouse that was the subject of an animal rights group's
Harris got the money - 10 checks for $2,000 each from five
individuals - during a fundraising trip to New York in December.
Some of the donors are from a family whose contributions to
President Bush were returned for unspecified reasons.
Two of the donors are executives of the Agriprocessors Inc.
slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. Two are members of the Balkany
family of Brooklyn, who are linked by marriage to the plant's
operators and known for abundant political contributions.
In November, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a
complaint against the plant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
PETA released a videotape showing cattle with their throats ripped
out staggering away from slaughtering machines.
A department investigation continues, a spokesman said. Meanwhile,
the plant has agreed to change some of its slaughtering procedures.
The department, without identifying the plant, has sent guidelines
to its inspectors telling them to shut down any slaughterhouse if
they see the kind of activity described by PETA and shown in the
Agriprocessors also is being sued by the Justice Department over
allegedly improper discharge of wastewater into Iowa's Yellow River.
That lawsuit is pending amid negotiations toward a settlement, said
Bob Butler, an assistant federal prosecutor.
Agriprocessors' attorney in that action, Jay Eaton, of Des Moines,
said the company ``will defend itself and believes the
allegations ... are not supportable,'' but he confirmed negotiations
Plant officials didn't return calls to discuss the allegations or
No Culpability, Aide Says
PETA called on Harris and other politicians who received
contributions from Iowa's Rubashkin family, operators of the
slaughterhouse, to return the money. PETA contends the federal
enforcement actions create a conflict of interest for some cash
Garrison Courtney, a Harris spokesman, said the Longboat Key
Republican won't return it.
``If PETA's allegations are confirmed, these practices should be
terminated and those involved should be held accountable,'' Courtney
wrote in a statement released last week. ``However, the alleged
activity has nothing to do with the congresswoman or any campaign
contributions she received.''
The Iowa plant produces meat using methods supervised by Jewish
organizations that certify food as kosher.
Sholom Rubashkin, who runs the plant, is related by marriage to
Orthodox Rabbi Milton Balkany, the most prominent member of the
In August 2003, federal prosecutors charged Balkany with diverting
$700,000 of federal grant money, intended to help disabled children,
for his personal use, for companies run by relatives and for other
After that indictment, Bush's re-election campaign returned about
$6,000 from the Balkanys. National Republican Party officials have
offered no explanation.
Charges against Milton Balkany were dropped after he agreed to pay
restitution and admitted improperly using some of the money,
according to news reports.
Because of Balkany's work raising money for political figures, the
independent political watchdog group PoliticalMoneyLine dubbed him
``the Brooklyn bundler,'' a reference to his ``bundling'' of
contributions from various sources.
His family is interested in Israel-related causes, and Harris is a
member of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
Kosher Techniques Defended
PETA is known for pro-vegetarian stances and favors fundamental
change in the way animals are treated in research and agriculture.
Some critics have said the organization is using the Agriprocessors
plant to attack meat consumption in general; Jewish groups have
charged the group is attacking kosher methods or even Judaism.
Bruce Friedrich, director of farm animal campaigns for PETA, denies
``Kosher slaughter in the U.S. should be better than conventional
slaughter'' if done correctly because it is done more carefully,
Friedrich said. ``Judaism is by far the best on animal welfare among
the monotheistic faiths.''
What happened at the Agriprocessor plant, he said, ``is a violation
of both kosher and federal regulations.''
Menachem Balkany, son of Milton Balkany and one of the donors to
Harris, didn't return calls for comment last week. Other donors
couldn't be reached.