The suggested contribution amounts for entry to a Capitol Hill fundraiser held Tuesday evening for Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn rose to $2,600 a head. The special guest advertised on the invitation was former Democratic senator Sam Nunn, the candidate’s father, who represented Georgia in Washington for over two decades.
There was another guest, however, who probably turned more heads. Among the co-hosts of the of the event was Virtual Murrell, an early leader of the Black Panther Party during its militant phase and later a political consultant who, in the mid 1990s, spent time in jail for using his perch in city government to extort local businesses.
“Our campaign was unaware of Mr. Murrell’s criminal history and disagrees with his comments,” Nunn communications director Nathan Click tells National Review Online. As a member of the Black Panther Party, Murrell embraced the organization’s racially incendiary platform, calling the United States government racist and threatening to retaliate against the police and the military “by whatever means necessary.”
In a year that has shaped up as a promising one for Republicans, Democrats have rallied around Nunn’s candidacy. She is not only a political legacy, but also has some bipartisan credibility in a state that favors the GOP: She is the former CEO of George H. W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, the nonprofit organization he founded to spearhead his charitable activities. Furthermore, Nunn faces a still-fractured Republican field. While Democrats have united behind Nunn, the GOP won’t have a candidate until after a July 22 runoff between businessman David Perdue and Republican congressman Jack Kingston.
Nunn has looked to be the strongest challenger of 2014 midterm cycle, but the sloppiness of a campaign operation that sent her off to fundraise with an ex-felon may cause Democrats to start asking questions: for starters, whether the rookie candidate and her team can get through a competitive battle this fall without further slip-ups.
They will have to start by strengthening their vetting operation.
Murrell was indicted in 1994 by a federal grand jury on charges that he solicited and received over $37,000 in bribes from businesses in San Francisco while serving as an aide to an Oakland city councilman. The indictment found him guilty of violating the Hobbs Act, a federal statute that prohibits elected and appointed officials from using their public positions for personal gain. Murrell pleaded guilty and, in 1995, was sentenced to a year in prison.
His brush with the law was not his first time in the spotlight. In the late 1960s, as distribution manager for the Blank Panthers, Murrell was a vocal proponent of the party’s ten-point platform. Archival news footage from the local San Francisco station KRON-TV shows him arguing, on the eve of his draft date in 1968, that African Americans should be exempt from military service because blacks are “victimized by the white racist government of America.”
“I’m due to report for induction tomorrow morning for the purposes of being drafted into the United States Army,” Murrell says. “If this racist, ethnocentric, imperialistic dog forces me to go, I have no other choice other than to sabotage your arsenal and to arm black people to use [arms] against this racist power structure to defend themselves.”
Nunn is not the first candidate who has had to distance herself from Murrell after her association with him became public.
In 1994, the Oakland mayoral candidate Ted Dang appeared and delivered a speech at a fundraiser to help cover Murrell’s legal expenses. When the news became public, he claimed to have stumbled on the event by accident.