Ed Markey gives Robert Kraft’s campaign funds to antitrafficking group
Senator Edward J. Markey, who received $3,600 in campaign donations from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, intends to donate that money to an organization focused on ending human trafficking after Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution at an Asian spa in Florida.
Markey, a Democrat, is among politicians across the country who are reckoning with having accepted financial support from Kraft and another billionaire with Massachusetts ties, John W. Childs, who also was charged with soliciting prostitution as part of a sweeping investigation into illicit sex at Florida massage parlors.
Both Kraft and Childs have denied any wrongdoing.
“Sexual exploitation in all of its forms is reprehensible,’’ Markey said in a statement to The Boston Globe. “These allegations are very alarming, and I have confidence that the authorities will be investigating this matter fully to get to the truth.”
Kraft, through his spokesman, declined to comment.
The investigation in Florida has resulted in charges against more than 10 spa operators and more than 200 customers but has yet to yield an arrest for sex trafficking.
But suspicion that trafficking was involved has trailed Kraft and others who allegedly frequented the spas. It has also caused concern among politicians who have taken campaign money from donors such as Kraft and Childs while they have supported legislation aimed at cracking down on trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable immigrants.
Like Markey, Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, has supported such legislation, and he has also pledged to donate campaign funding since the sex charges were filed. Portman received $5,400 for his 2016 campaign from Childs, who founded the Waltham private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates. Childs was charged with soliciting prostitution at a spa in Vero Beach, Fla.
Two other Republican senators — Martha McSally of Arizona and Mike Braun of Indiana — have also said they would give contributions they received from Childs to charity.
Three more senators who received contributions from both Kraft and Childs — Marco Rubio of Florida, John Cornyn of Texas, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, all Republicans — have not publicly addressed the issue, even as they have supported action to stop trafficking.
On Capitol Hill, Markey, Rubio, and Cornyn joined 10 of their colleagues on Jan. 31 in sponsoring a resolution aimed at curbing commercial sex trafficking.
Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and his two GOP colleagues helped to introduce the resolution just days after police videotaped Kraft allegedly receiving sexual services twice at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla.
Markey received the $3,600 in donations from Kraft in 2013, when he was running for the Senate seat that John Kerry vacated to become US secretary of state.
Rubio, who in 2017 joined Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in sponsoring the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act, received $1,000 from Kraft in 2013. Kraft also gave $1,000 in 2013 to Cornyn, who in 2017 became the chief sponsor of the Abolish Human Trafficking Act.
Graham, who once held a hearing to explore whether human traffickers should be subject to the death penalty if a victim dies, also received campaign support from Kraft, a total of $2,600 in 2013.
Childs gave $5,200 to Graham’s campaign in 2014, $5,000 to Cornyn’s campaign in 2013, and $7,300 to Rubio campaigns in 2010 and 2011.
Aides to Graham, Rubio, and Cornyn did not respond to requests for comment.
Portman was the primary sponsor of a bill to establish fines and prison terms for website operators who engage in online sex trafficking. He has donated his contributions from Childs to groups throughout Ohio that support trafficking survivors, his spokeswoman has said.
Childs could not be reached for comment.
Authorities in Florida said in news conferences last month that their investigation had uncovered possible evidence of sex trafficking.
In Jupiter, where the Orchids of Asia spa is located, Police Chief Daniel Kerr said, “Our concern in this investigation centers around the possibility of victims of human trafficking.’’
Kerr said authorities had enlisted advocacy groups and translators to obtain more information and help workers who may have been trafficked.
In nearby Martin County, Sheriff William Snyder said many of the alleged sex workers in the case had emigrated from China believing they would receive legitimate jobs in the Florida spas. He said many were forced into the sex trade and were all but confined to their shops around the clock. In some cases, he said, the spa operators took their passports.
But proving trafficking allegations can be difficult, prosecutors have said. The victims often are immigrants who are reluctant to cooperate because they fear for their safety and the security of their families in their native countries.
To date, the most serious charges against any of the Florida spa operators have been racketeering and money laundering.
Childs, who for many years lived near Kraft in Chestnut Hill, has donated millions of dollars to conservative candidates and causes. He has long helped to fund the Massachusetts Republican Party, most recently donating $10,000 in 2017. The party did not respond to a request for comment.
Kraft has for decades been a major campaign donor, primarily to Democrats. He began giving to Markey’s campaigns in 2001, when Markey, a member of the House from 1976 to 2013, was the ranking member of the House subcommittee on telecommunications. Kraft donated a combined $4,000 to Markey from 2001 to 2004.
In a rarity, Kraft appeared to back a Republican presidential candidate in 2016, praising his friend, Donald Trump, while stopping short of formally endorsing him. He later donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee through the Kraft Group LLC.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office after the charges were filed against Kraft that the news was “very sad.’’
“He’s proclaimed his innocence, totally, but I am very surprised to see it,’’ Trump said.
A lifelong Democrat, Kraft was elected chairman of the Newton Democratic City Committee when he was 27, and he considered running for Congress in 1970, when he was 29.
In 2000, he gave $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee to help fund Al Gore’s presidential campaign. And he contributed more than $50,000 in 2012 to support President Obama.
Massachusetts campaign finance records show Kraft has given a combined $26,700 to state and local candidates and committees since 2004, including $10,000 each to the state Democratic and Republican parties, and $1,000 to Deval Patrick, a former governor, and $500 to former lieutenant governor Timothy Murray.
But Kraft has made only one contribution since 2009 to a local Massachusetts election campaign: $200 in 2015 to support Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.
Hodgson issued a statement that said, “I was surprised and saddened by the news. It was surprising that someone who himself, and his family, have done so much not only for the region, but for Massachusetts and neighborhoods in Foxborough and beyond, would be facing this kind of allegation.”
Kraft is scheduled to be arraigned March 28 in Palm Beach County.