Biblical law advocate spends big to re-elect ‘Putin’s favorite congressman’

After donating the legal maximum, Howard Ahmanson Jr. is spending thousands more on "independent expenditures" for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) at an April press conference. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr., the controversial advocate for strict biblical law and heir to a savings-and-loan fortune worth hundreds of millions, has already given the legal maximum to the re-election campaign of embattled Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). And more than 20 years after landing in hot water for helping a Rohrabacher protege game the political system, Ahmanson has opted to circumvent campaign donation limits by making tens of thousands of dollars in “independent expenditures” to help his re-election.

Rohrabacher, a former Reagan aide, has represented southern California in Congress since 1989. In recent years, he has earned notoriety for his close ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime, earning the nickname “Putin’s favorite congressman” and his own Kremlin code name. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was even recorded in 2016 saying that he believe his fellow California Republican was on Putin’s payroll. The far-right Rohrabacher has expressed outrage that homeless people in Orange County might be given a place to sleep, denounced constituents urging him to hold a town hall as “enemies of American self-government and democracy,” suggested that climate change might be caused by “dinosaur flatulence,” and warned that white people would “lose our freedom” if the DREAM Act passed.

He has long had a fan in Ahmanson. Since 2001, he has received more than $10,000 toward his re-election campaigns, including $5,400 for his 2018 re-election bid — the legal maximum for a Congressional candidate. Ahmanson did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about his political activities.

Unable to contribute more directly to the campaign, Ahmanson has decided to become a one-man super PAC. According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, he has spent more than $60,000 in May alone on direct mail, database services, and research in support of Rohrabacher’s re-election. As long as he does not coordinate these efforts with the campaign, he can spend an unlimited amount on these efforts.


Like Rohrabacher, Ahmanson has taken some extreme and controversial positions over the years. In addition to spending millions bankrolling anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion, and other causes supporting a “Christian worldview,” he served for decades on the board of the radical Chalcedon Foundation, a Christian Reconstructionist, and heavily funded its efforts. The group’s late founder, Rousas John Rushdoony advocated for American laws that followed the Book of Leviticus literally, including execution by stoning gay and lesbian people, adulterers, juvenile delinquents, non-believers, and most others. Though Ahmanson denounced “the stoning or execution of homosexuals,” he told to the Orange County Register in 1985 that his purpose was “total integration of biblical law into our lives.”

Ahmanson’s support has not always been welcome — even conservatives like then-Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and then-Gov. Linda Lingle (R-HI) returned campaign contributions from Ahmanson in light of his views and record. Earlier this year Marshall Tuck, a Democrat seeking the non-partisan position of California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, did the same. (Full disclosure: in 2004, the author was president of a political group that successfully urged Wolf to return a $1,000 contribution from Ahmanson). But Rohrabacher has been all to happy to accept his support.

Back in the 1990s, Ahmanson ran a conservative political action committee called Allied Business PAC (and later California Independent Business PAC). Ahmanson’s PAC allegedly pressured GOP aides to recruit a fake Democrat into a 1995 California Assembly race, helping to elect a Republican Rohrabacher protege to the seat. Rohrabacher’s wife was indicted for her role in the scheme and ultimately accepted a plea bargain.