A Washington State congressional candidate The Daily Beast caught misreporting his employer in 34 public statements and disclosures in fact never worked at all for his six-figure pay, his former campaign manager claims—just one perk the former staffer says the Republican enjoyed from his putative job.
Conservative operative Byron Sanford told The Daily Beast that Joe Kent never dedicated a single hour to his reported role as a project manager for a tech firm in all the grueling months he ran the campaign up until the candidate axed him amid internal disputes in December of last year. Nonetheless, the Donald Trump-backed contender reported to the House Ethics Committee that he had earned a $122,110.36 salary in 2021 from a company called “American Enterprise Solutions,” which he stated in an earlier filing was his full-time job.
When The Daily Beast exposed earlier this week that “American Enterprise Solutions” did not appear to exist, Kent and his campaign admitted that they had misidentified the firm in dozens of disclosures to the committee and the Federal Elections Commission, and in at least one public appearance. The team has since updated Kent’s personal financial reports to state that his employer is “Advanced Enterprise Solutions.”
Business records in Delaware, Virginia, and Washington State do attest to this firm’s existence, as does a $264,476 Paycheck Protection Program it received in April 2020 for reportedly preserving 18 positions in the face of the pandemic. Only a few weeks after catching this lifeline, Kent made his first federal campaign donation to a Trump-linked committee, giving “project manager” as his title and “American Enterprise Solutions” as his employer.
But Sanford alleged that, at least from the start of his campaign in early 2021, Kent was not logging any hours for any project other than his own bid to unseat Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA).
“I made his schedule, there simply wasn’t any time in the day,” Sanford said, adding that Kent told volunteers that he had “light hours” thanks to an arrangement with his company’s owner. “I think he’s just paid a six-figure salary so he can campaign.”
Sanford further recalled sitting in on a conference call in which Kent revealed that his employer would finance a survey by Trafalgar Polling of voters in the House district. No payments of any kind to Trafalgar appear in Kent’s reports to the FEC, and the firm did not respond to repeated requests for comment by The Daily Beast.
In response to questions from The Daily Beast about Sanford’s allegations, attorneys for Advanced Enterprise Solutions and its owner Sean Reed supplied only a terse statement.
“AES provided no support to Mr. Kent’s campaign,” they wrote in an email. “Individual AES personnel made donations to Mr. Kent’s campaign in their personal capacities.”
The Kent campaign, on the other hand, denied Sanford’s allegations and claimed he served as “campaign manager in name only” and lost his job for making offensive remarks.
“Since he was fired by the Kent campaign, he has taken to making delusional accusations typical of a disgruntled employee and activist Democrats in the media have made good use of him to attack Kent,” said adviser Matt Braynard.
Braynard denied any connection between the campaign and the Trafalgar poll, and maintained that Advanced Enterprise Solutions had contributed nothing to the campaign beyond the $10,800 Reed donated to the bid and to an affiliated political action committee.
Asked to produce timesheets documenting Kent’s own assertion to Oregon Public Broadcasting that he clocks in “30-hour work weeks, 40-hour work weeks” for Advanced Enterprise Solutions, campaign adviser Matt Braynard responded with mockery.
“What is this, the 1950s?” Braynard wrote in an email.
Pressed on whether the company obligates Kent to demonstrate he is working for his salary, or simply functions on the honor system, and to provide an overview of specific projects Kent has managed, Braynard replied by sending a local news article about how their Democratic opponent was once terminated from a position at a nonprofit. The Democrat, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, and the nonprofit have both disputed the article's accuracy.
If Sanford’s allegations are true, they could trigger action by the FEC, which is charged with enforcing campaign finance law. Paying for a poll on a political committee’s behalf and failing to report it would amount to a “pretty straightforward violation,” said Erin Chlopak, senior director for campaign finance at the Campaign Legal Center.
She added that the FEC might probe Kent’s employment arrangement if somebody lodged a formal complaint.
“If somebody pays money to a candidate for the purpose of influencing their election, that is a contribution,” Chlopak said. “It would seem worthy of an investigation if a candidate is getting money from another person for no clear purpose other than running a campaign.”
In such proceedings, Kent would have the opportunity to produce counterevidence—and Chlopak argued that Kent’s reporting of AES as his employer prior to launching his campaign might settle at least some suspicions.
Curiously, however, Washington State Department of Revenue records show that Advanced Enterprise Solutions did not register with the agency—as is required of all businesses employing people in the state—until several months after Kent launched his campaign. Further, in all his contributions to the Kent committees, Reed did not identify himself as Advanced Enterprises Solutions’ owner or founder but only as self-employed.
The source of the company’s income, beyond the PPP loan, is unclear. It has a minimal web presence and operates out of a coworking space in Herndon, Virginia. The loan materials indicate that in 2020 it had 18 people on staff.
The Kent campaign said in a press release put out late Tuesday that the firm “collects research/intelligence throughout the world on cellular infrastructure which is then sold to telecommunication firms who are pursuing contracts to upgrades that infrastructure, most recently involving the transition to 5G technology.”
The firm’s registration in Virginia became inactive earlier this year after it failed to pay an annual fee. Loudon County property records show Reed sold his home in Chantilly in September 2021 for $807,500. He has since registered another business entity and donated to Kent from a five-bedroom mansion in nearby Leesburg.
Records show that home belongs to an executive of telecom giant Comcast, although a person close to the executive maintained to The Daily Beast that the two men have only a landlord-tenant relationship.