Elections

Curbelo leadership PAC donates to opponents of immigration reform

Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo
Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo AP

Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock says immigrants should be tracked like Fed-Ex packages. California Rep. Duncan Hunter was one of the first politicians to endorse Donald Trump. North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker proposes using fighter jets to stop illegal immigration.

All three have received money from Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo’s political action committee — which was established to support Republicans who favor immigration reform.

The PAC, named What a Country (WACPAC), has given money to at least 47 House Republicans since the start of 2015, Federal Election Commission records show. Over half of them voted against continuing to fund Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that gives certain undocumented immigrants temporary work permits and an exemption from deportation. Curbelo said in 2015 that support for DACA, which most Republicans oppose, would be a litmus test for potential WACPAC beneficiaries.

Curbelo, a moderate Republican running for reelection in Florida’s 26th District, supports immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He said the 47 Republicans who received money from WACPAC indicated to him in off-the-record conversations that they are committed to immigration reform.

What some of them say on the record is a different story.

“Fed-Ex can track packages coming in here all of the time, we can track people who are coming into the country and we can do that right,” Comstock said in 2014. She received $1,000 from WACPAC.

“On the issues of border security, national security and economic security, Trump is exactly right,” Hunter said in February. Hunter sponsored what became known by opponents as the “Donald Trump Act,” which prevents local governments from receiving federal funding if local law enforcement does not alert federal officials about undocumented immigrants. He received $1,000 from WACPAC.

“If you have foreigners who are sneaking in with drug cartels, to me that is a national threat, and if we gotta go laser or blitz somebody with a couple of fighter jets for a little while to make our point I don’t have a problem with that,” Walker said in 2014. He received $1,000 from WACPAC.

Curbelo said all those members of Congress are in favor of immigration reform and will support his ideas.

“When the time comes they will be poised to help us on the immigration issue,” Curbelo said. “I could have just established a generic leadership PAC but I decided voluntarily — I didn’t have to do this — to employ this resource to advance a policy agenda that is important to me.”

Leadership PACs are typically used by politicians to curry favor and build rapport with colleagues through donations. Curbelo was, and still is, adamant that WACPAC is not a typical leadership PAC.

But statements from at least two congressmen who received money from WACPAC indicate otherwise.

Hunter’s chief of staff, Joe Kasper, suggested that Curbelo and Hunter’s co-membership on the transportation and infrastructure committee was a major reason why WACPAC donated to Hunter. “I know they have a personal relationship,” he said.

Dan McLagan, a spokesman for Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the donation from WACPAC was a “thank you.” Loudermilk received $1,000 from WACPAC.

Curbelo has a broad definition of what would disqualify a member from receiving a WACPAC donation: “People who refuse to acknowledge that we need to reform our country’s immigration law are very unlikely to get any kind of support.”

Walker’s spokesman indicated that Curbelo and Walker can work together to find a compromise on immigration.

“Congressman Walker and Congressman Curbelo may not agree on every single point, but that does not mean they cannot work together and find common ground,” Walker communications director Jack Minor said.

Comstock’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

WACPAC also donated to Republicans with positions on immigration similar to Curbelo’s, like Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, who co-sponsored a new version of the DREAM Act with Curbelo.

Immigration has been a major campaign issue for Curbelo, who faces an expensive reelection bid. The two candidates in the Democratic primary, former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and former Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair Annette Taddeo, say Curbelo has softened his stance on immigration reform in exchange for a better shot at reelection. Curbelo has publicly announced that he will not vote for Trump in the November election.

Last week, Curbelo proposed the new DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before 2010 and were 16 or younger a path to citizenship.

Curbelo’s proposed legislation isn’t likely to pass. House Speaker Paul Ryan has indicated there won’t be anymore votes on immigration reform while President Barack Obama is in office. But Curbelo said he is willing to challenge Republican leadership on the issue, if he can get enough of his colleagues to agree with him.

Some of the 28 Republicans who received money from WACPAC but voted against continuing DACA have mixed records on immigration, indicating a voting pattern that hints they could vote for Curbelo’s legislation. Others, like Hunter, have consistently voted against the positions that Curbelo supports.

“When I got elected I said I would be willing to work with anyone who would help me improve the quality of life in my community and strengthen this country,” Curbelo said. “In Congress that means working with people who don’t agree with you all of the time.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s position on undocumented immigrants. He is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, including an earned path to citizenship — not amnesty — for undocumented families.

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