|By Phil Magness
Campaign ethics reports show that U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk employed a controversial anti-Israel activist named Steven L. Hyland on his campaign through mid-June. But Kirk, who avoided the question until a late September meeting in Houston, now suggests that Hyland, a friend of John Walker Lindh, was merely a 19 or 21 year-old campaign volunteer who put together a few yard signs.
In fact, Hyland was a paid campaign aide who received nearly $7,000 in salary over a three month period from the Kirk campaign, as well as over a thousand dollars in other disbursements. Furthermore, Hyland was born in 1972, making him approximately 30 years old.
Kirk's silence was apparently broken during a recent campaign stop of Democratic Jewish leaders in Houston. During the question and answer session, an audience member requested that the candidate address what he called a whisper campaign alleging "at least some members of your staff... are anti-Semitic." The question pertained to Hyland and the baggage he adds to the Texas Democrat's already wobbly stance on the Middle East, and foreign policy in general.
Hyland's checkered past includes a June 23, 1995 editorial for the Daily Texan that stated, "The U.S. government labels Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations, but they are really freedom fighters defending their rights in Lebanon and Palestine." Hyland's August 24 piece in that same year claimed that suicide bombers were part of a "vicious circle of killing that Israel created," not the terrorist organizations that carried them out.
Hyland is also a personal friend of American-Taliban John Walker Lindh. The two first met in 1998 at a study abroad program in Yemen. Hyland was interviewed repeatedly about their friendship during the recent legal proceedings against Lindh following his capture while fighting along side Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
After calling criticisms about his affiliation with Hyland "distasteful" at this Houston event, Kirk dismissed The Austin Review, which first broke the story, as "some right-wing rag in Austin." The Democrat then turned to Hyland's relationship with his campaign, which he argued was minimal.
Kirk described the anti-Israel activist as nothing more than a "young man who volunteered for our campaign." Kirk said the controversial employee "was not a paid" before apparently stopping himself and reiterating his claim that Hyland was a volunteer who was "doing yard signs... and bumper stickers."
Kirk's filings with the Federal Elections Commission reveal that Hyland was not a volunteer yard-sign assembler but a paid employee of the Kirk for Senate campaign. This supposed "volunteer" received checks from the campaign designated as "payroll expense" over several months. Hyland drew paychecks of $1133.32 from March to June out of the Kirk campaign. FEC records indicate payments made on March 31st, April 15th and 30th, May 15th and 30th, and on June 14th shortly before Hyland resigned his position. In addition, the records show that Kirk paid Hyland over $1,000 in various reimbursements and non-itemized expenditures over that same period.
After claiming that Hyland was a volunteer rather than a paid employee, Kirk continued to downplay the controversial anti-Israel activist's role in the campaign. According to Kirk, Hyland "was a... 21, 22 year old doctoral student," not a paid political worker. Later in his rambling remarks, Kirk identified Hyland as a 19 year old.
The ages given for Hyland immediately raise questions about Kirk's veracity. One is hard pressed to find a doctoral student who has already completed four years of undergraduate work plus a master's program by age 19, or 21 for that matter. Further, if Hyland were currently nineteen that would make him only twelve at the time he wrote his editorial in defense of Hezbollah for the University of Texas student newspaper. In fact, the Review has found that Hyland was actually born in 1972 - a far cry from the 19 year old volunteer college student that Kirk attempted to pass off in his answer.
The Senate candidate did purport to differ with Hyland's apparently pro-Hezbollah political beliefs, which Kirk described as "very Pro-Palestinian," though he did not specify how and added "people have differences of opinion," a reference to those held by Hyland.
Kirk's comments about Hyland are not the first time his campaign has distorted the truth about his employment. Last June a Kirk fundraiser named Lane Luskey sent out an email to disgruntled donors who had learned of Hyland's employment in the Austin Review's story. Luskey claimed that Hyland, who took his last paycheck from Kirk in mid June, had been asked to leave due to his controversial politics. The Austin American-Statesman reported that Luskey's statement lacked truth. "Hyland quit and was not fired," reported the Statesman article. After being caught, the Kirk campaign admitted to the Statesman that Luskey's email was in error.
The Hyland flap is not the only issue to question Kirk's strength on national defense. Kirk recently held a high profile fundraiser with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a notorious anti-military congresswoman who was also the lone congressional vote against a military response to Al Qaeda and the Taliban after September 11th. Lee is also a former associate of the Black Panther Party, who acted as a mole for the Panthers in Oakland, and a past aide to radical representative Ron Dellums.
A radical anti-military special interest group called the Council for a Livable World, or CLW, also supports Kirk's candidacy. The CLW's website actively solicits political contributions to Kirk with the consent of his campaign. The group advocates drastic cuts in the military budget, even in a time of war, and staunchly opposes a missile defense shield - positions the CLW says are shared by Kirk and earned him their endorsement.
Kirk downplays and denies his radical affiliations, but their cumulative effect is clearly raising questions even among Democrats, as the Houston event demonstrated. With the latest revelations of Kirk's dissembling, it is not just Kirk's association with a virulent anti-Israel and anti-military agenda that is at issue, but his credibility.
The Austin Review staff contributed to this story.