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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 09, 2018 1:00 am

Banks, Tritch spar over drag queen event

BRIAN FRANCISCO and NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

The campaign of U.S. Rep. Jim Banks has threatened to file an ethics complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Democratic challenger Courtney Tritch for accepting money at a fundraising event that featured female impersonators and crossdressers.

But Tritch's campaign said the event violated no FEC rules and accused Banks of demonstrating “clear homophobia.”

Banks' campaign on Tuesday emailed The Journal Gazette a link to a video from the event, billed on Facebook as “The Queen's Court: Campaigning is a DRAG.” The fundraiser was Sept. 1 at After Dark Nightclub in Fort Wayne.

“Not only is this video deeply disturbing and offensive but it clearly shows Democrat Courtney Tritch illegally accepting undocumented cash campaign donations while she dances on stage with a drag queen,” Steve Justus, campaign manager for Banks, R-3rd, said in a statement.

“We are exploring FEC violations and looking at filing a complaint. In the meantime, Ms. Tritch may want to consider apologizing for this charade to the northeastern Indiana families she's campaigning to represent,” Justus said.

The video link shows several audience members giving what appear to be paper currency to Tritch while she dances on a stage. She also is shown going into the audience to collect more bills.

David Myles, Tritch's campaign manager, said in an email that the event was “hosted by voters in the 3rd District” and that it “followed FEC regulations.”

“What is disturbing though is the clear homophobia demonstrated by Rep. Banks,” Myles said. “In asking for an apology to the families of the 3rd District, he is stating that the LGBTQ community is excluded from his idea of family. If he would like to discuss his views on LGBTQ rights, as well as his positions on affordable health care, strong public schools, and high-wage jobs, he can agree to debate Courtney in person this fall, as we've requested multiple times.”

According to the FEC, candidates and their campaigns do not have to keep records identifying donation amounts, dates and contributor names and addresses for gifts of $50 or less. The FEC says campaigns must keep records of the name and date of a fundraising event and the total amount of money received at the event.

Records related to Tritch's fundraiser would be included with the third-quarter campaign finance report she files with the FEC in October.

Banks, by the way, will open Trine University's 2018-2019 Distinguished Speaker Series at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Ryan Concert Hall of the T. Furth Center for Performing Arts. The event will include a remembrance of those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. All Distinguished Speaker Series events are free and open to the public.

Candidates scarce

U.S. Senate candidates have done little in-person campaigning in Fort Wayne ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

Republican Mike Braun's visit to Master Spas on Wednesday was his first media-invited campaign stop in the Summit City since winning the GOP primary election in May.

“There'll be more of it in the fall,” Braun said. “We're gonna be all over. I think most of the statewide campaign is going to be litigated across the airwaves. ... We'll be up here more often for sure.”

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly came to Fort Wayne on Saturday to launch a Fort Wayne chapter of “Veterans for Joe,” the name his campaign has given to military veterans and their advocates who support Donnelly's re-election. He also marched in the Three Rivers Festival Parade and kicked off a neighborhood canvassing effort by the Allen County Democratic Party neighborhood canvassing effort, both on July 14.

Before Saturday's event was announced, a Donnelly campaign spokesman said in an email that “when Joe isn't working in the Senate, he's back in Indiana campaigning every weekend.” 

Fort Wayne campaigning by Donnelly and Braun should pick up, if the 2016 race for Indiana's other Senate seat is any indication. That year, Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Young and Democratic former senator and ex-governor Evan Bayh each made at least five public appearances in the city in the two months between Labor Day and Election Day. Those don't include a private fundraising lunch for eventual winner Young that was headlined by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Celebrity blitz

Donnelly and Braun have so far split the Fighting Irish football vote.

Former University of Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, whose undefeated team won the national championship in 1988, endorsed Braun in mid-August. Holtz said in a statement at the time that Braun is “a great man and the right guy to represent Indiana in the U.S. Senate.”

On Thursday, actor Sean Astin, who played the title character in “Rudy,” a 1993 film based on Notre Dame walk-on football player Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, sent a fundraising email supporting Donnelly. Astin said Donnelly “brings people together and he starts conversations – not to win them, but to learn from them – and then he works each and every day until he gets things done.”

Who will break the tie? Joe Montana? Joe Theismann?

To reach Political Notebook, email Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.