U.S. News

Land O'Lakes ends support for U.S. Rep. King after furor over views

(Reuters) - Agricultural dairy cooperative Land O’Lakes pulled its support on Tuesday for U.S. Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican whose past inflammatory comments on immigration and race drew renewed scrutiny after the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduces U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (L) during a campaign stop at King's Christian Bookstore in Boone, Iowa January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich/File Photo

King, 69, has been widely criticized for his comments and support for candidates with white supremacist affiliations, including by members of his own party. On Monday, King tweeted a photo of multiple breeds of dogs, noting “all the diversity” at his annual pheasant hunt.

King, who is seeking his ninth term in the House of Representatives, received $2,500 from the Land O’Lakes Political Action Committee this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations.

“We take our civic responsibility seriously, want our contributions to be a positive force for good and also seek to ensure that recipients of our contributions uphold our company’s values,” Minnesota-based Land O’Lakes, whose products include its eponymous butter, said in a statement. “On that basis, we have determined that our PAC will no longer support Rep. Steve King moving forward.”

King also came in for criticism from a powerful member of his own party on Tuesday, as U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, a Republican from Ohio, took to Twitter to condemn his rhetoric.

“Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate,” said Stivers, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports the party’s congressional campaigns. “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.”

King was defiant in a post on Twitter headlined “King Response.” “These attacks are orchestrated by nasty, desperate and dishonest fake news,” he wrote, while also blaming establishment Republicans.

King did not address the Land O’Lakes funding, but sought to clarify his views on race and ethnicity. “Americans, all created equal by God, with all our races, ethnicities, and national origins - legal immigrants & natural born citizens, together make up the Shining City on the Hill,” he also wrote in his Twitter post.

His campaign told Reuters the Twitter statement was the congressman’s response.

King is seeking re-election in a race that appears to have tightened, though he is still favored to win. Campaign handicappers at the Cook Political Report on Tuesday moved the contest to “leans Republican” from a “likely Republican” win.

On Saturday morning, a gunman who yelled “All Jews must die” stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people when he opened fire during Sabbath prayer services.

The man charged with the massacre, Robert Bowers, appeared in court on Monday.

The Pittsburgh attack came just days after at least 14 pipe bombs were mailed to some of President Donald Trump’s leading critics, including wealthy donor George Soros. King frequently invokes Soros’ name as a liberal villain, a reference interpreted by many Jews and others as an anti-Semitic dog-whistle. A Florida man was arrested on Friday and charged in that case.

During a recent trip to Europe financed by a Holocaust memorial group, King met with an Austrian far-right party with ties to neo-Nazi groups after touring Holocaust sites, according to the Washington Post and other media outlets.

After the Pittsburgh shooting, King told the Washington Post he was not anti-Semitic. He re-tweeted a Twitter post quoting the late Pope John Paul II saying that Jews are “dearly beloved brothers.”

That did not stop calls on social media to boycott Land O’Lakes for supporting King. The company did not respond to questions about its decision to end its financial support for King or say whether the threatened boycott was a factor.

Trump won King’s congressional district by 27 percentage points in the 2016 presidential race.

But as of mid-October, King had raised $740,000, less than half of the $1.7 million brought in by his Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten, according to the Federal Election Commission website.

At that time, King had $176,000 cash on hand to spend in the last weeks of the campaign, compared with Scholten’s $317,000, the website showed.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; editing by Colleen Jenkins, Leslie Adler and Chris Reese