More questions on the third man

Now that Maryland voters have been introduced to Rob Sobhani, the vetting is coming full force. Take as an example the Red Maryland crew, which has been hammering him mercilessly on a number of subjects, including their “Broadside” radio show.

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The same goes for Jim Jamitis at Anthropocon, who questioned Sobhani’s journalistic integrity as a CNN Middle East expert.

But now Rob has drawn fire from his Republican opponent Dan Bongino, whose campaign posits their own set of unanswered questions (via Sharon Strine, Deputy Campaign Manager for Bongino):

After 16 months of countless interviews, surveys, and a grueling primary election Dan Bongino’s candidacy has been thoroughly examined. Senator Cardin’s 45 year record of voting for tax increases is extensively recorded. Rob Sobhani, however, has had far less scrutiny regarding his background, thanks in part to the convenient timing of his entry into the race for U.S. Senate.

Our campaign just announced our best fundraising quarter to date thanks to the support of thousands of donors throughout Maryland. Mr. Sobhani, lacking that grassroots support, is self-financing his campaign.

Individuals funding their own campaign is not wrong, but valid questions do become more apparent that are simply not getting asked.  Especially if, for example, that individual obtains ballot access by hiring a company with a history of being associated in several states with accusations of deception and illegalities in their signature-gathering practices.

This, along with two previously failed Senate campaigns and a job on Capitol Hill, are not the typical resume one would expect from someone presenting himself as an independent, Washington outsider.

Mr. Sobhani recently joked about hitting the jackpot and that is why he decided to run for office instead of buying another house. Maryland’s future representation in the U.S. Senate is no laughing matter.  With so much at stake this election, we cannot be too careful or too diligent in our efforts to learn more about those seeking higher office.

Perhaps this isn’t the most elegantly worded assessment of Sobhani, but there are legitimate questions regarding the company which circulated their petitions and alleged previous shady practices of theirs.

Needless to say, many Maryland Republicans aren’t thrilled with the late entry of Rob Sobhani into the race, which is why the long knives seem to have come out. After all, even an article from Eric Ostermeier of the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Political Affairs and found on Sobhani’s site claims:

At 21 percent, Sobhani is clearly cutting into the support of the Republican Party this cycle.

The Ostermeier article goes on to talk about Sobhani’s platform, which to me is perhaps best described as centrist. It weaves red meat issues for conservatives like immigration reform and English as a national language with feelgood pap like “We must cut programs, but not leave people without safety nets” and “I favor a simple, 15% flat rate for most working Americans. Those who are making a lot more can pay a little more.” Sobhani’s platform would certainly be to the right of Ben Cardin’s, but well to the left of Dan Bongino, who also addresses a number of issues Sobhani does not.

But other questions not yet answered give me pause. Rob got into some hot water for this statement attributed to him:

There’s a young lady here in the United States who is in her mid thirties. She’s a Deputy Secretary of Education in the United States, an American Iranian. That same 30-something in Iran has to prostitute herself to make ends meet.

When pressed, Sobhani blames “well-known and identified apologists for and supporters of the clerical regime of Iran (who are) grossly misrepresenting and cleverly spinning out of context my words from various speaking engagements and media interviews.” Fair enough. But what about statements I found earlier about the plight of Iranian-Americans, like this from an earlier Senate run?

As a United States Senator what I hope to achieve for Americans of Iranians descent is straighforward (sic): end the demonizing and stereotyping of Iran and Iranians. In fact, my first act as an elected official will be demand a public apology from Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat from California) for calling the Iranian nation “terrorist” in her interview with CNN last February.

Beyond this significant symbolic act, I hope to channel available federal funds to non-profit organizations in the United States dedicated to the preservation of our heritage. Also, and more to the point, I will work very hard to end the discrimination against Iranians who wish to visit the United States to see their relatives and loved-ones.

Yet perhaps even more pronounced than Rob’s homage to his Iranian heritage is his advocacy for big business deals. And if the Americans can’t do them, perhaps Canada can. This is a portion of testimony given to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, April 11, 2000:

The Chairman: The problem we have a little bit is the problem of priority and resources, because you’ll appreciate that we’re told the same thing when we go to China, we’re told the same thing in various parts of Africa, and we’re told the same thing in practically every developing economy. It’s almost a sine qua non that there’s a role for government that exceeds that of business in say Europe or the United States. I think we might even find that we would get the same story in Latin America. It then becomes a question of how we allocate government resources, and whether or not the Canadian interests in the region are substantial enough and whether the potential of the region is substantial enough. However, that’s for us to grapple with, and we’ll look at that.

Just going on the potential of the region, can any of you help me with one question? What is the size of Canadian… We have some idea about the mineral activities in these countries, but in the Azerbaijani oil play, we hear the figure that Canada’s participation is around 4% or something like that. Is there any way to quantify what the Canadian participation in that region is?

Dr. Rob Sobhani: Canadian participation in Azerbaijan is very minimal. The major presence is the company that I represent, the Alberta Energy Company. They have 5% of a major structure in the South Caspian, which, if proven and discovered, is 9 billion barrels of oil. That’s a sizeable structure.

The Chairman: What does that do to their share price?

Dr. Rob Sobhani: If you’re an AEC shareholder, you’ll be a very rich person.

To give you a comparison, the partners in that one project in which AEC has 5% are BP Amoco with 15%, Exxon-Mobil with 15%, the Turkish Petroleum Company with 10%. And I know that if you take the totality of all the contracts, you will find that Exxon-Mobil and BP Amoco are by far the dominant players. Beyond Alberta Energy, there is very little Canadian presence.

The Chairman: Do you see a future interest of Canadian oil and gas companies in that, given what you said about the resources that are available in Alberta at this time?

Dr. Rob Sobhani: Absolutely, and not only in the upstream discovery, but also in the downstream—refining, pipelining, and getting the oil out. There are enormous opportunities. As I’ve said, $10 billion needs to be spent to build these pipelines.

The Chairman: I understand the opportunity, but do you get a feeling that Canadian companies are starting to come as well? Or have they even realized—

Dr. Rob Sobhani: At least in Azerbaijan, I don’t, because I think there is this gap. They’re there, but their flag is not there. The way it works, the Maple Leaf needs to be there. If they don’t see the Maple Leaf, it’s difficult, because when they’re negotiating with the president, the prime minister, or the oil minister, his first question is to ask where the ambassador is. The response is “Sorry, Canada doesn’t have an ambassador”. That immediately takes away from the bargaining position. (Emphasis mine.)

The reason this is important to me is that Sobhani is hinging a large part of his campaign on the promise of billions of dollars of investment for Maryland. There’s a line between being an outsider with business experience – Mitt Romney is an imperfect example, but one nonetheless – and someone who could be enriching himself with the deals he makes. Perhaps Canada followed Rob’s advice and made him a very wealthy man, since he admitted to working for the Alberta Energy Company.

In an era where government seems to strive to socialize risk while privatizing profit for the well-connected, I have to wonder what’s in it for Rob. We really haven’t had an honest accounting of where this promised money will come from, nor has the obvious question of why this investment needs Rob Sobhani to be involved been answered. If it were such a great deal, one would think it would already be underway.

Beware of men who make big promises.

3 thoughts on “More questions on the third man”

  1. I see that a dishonest campaign that is the result of our candidate desperately trying to not be third place by bringing down Sobhani with him has started. You seem to be joining in the fray, the “Sobhani Story” article I’m sorry to say although it was interesting it was dishonest.

    The Republican Party will break through in Blue states if it remains honest to itself and its supporters. All this is doing is pushing moderate Republicans like myself away. We must remain true to ourselves, and keep our campaigns clean, because it is by talking about issues that our party will win, not by throwing mud at our opponents. It just makes us look desperate. This isn’t a two way race with Sobhani, it’s a three way race with Cardin, he’s laughing at us right now.

    I am telling you this because I appreciate your work and style, and I feel that you are straying towards conservative tabloid blogs.

  2. I’m not worried about whether “our” candidate finishes in third place, although I would definitely feel better about our state’s prospects if he finished first. What I am worried about is where Sobhani is going to get these “investments.” If you consider the questions I’ve brought up “throwing mud” then you’re completely missing the point.

    With any opponent facing Ben Cardin, we have to go by what they’re promising to do because none of them have previously served in office – obviously Ben Cardin has a record by which we can predict future performance. However, with Sobhani we have a record of what he’s said in the past when running for office, which is what this article is based upon. In one instance, he has modified on his taxation stance to an extent to make his flat tax more progressive and that’s a point I’ve discussed.

    But I also think his outsized allegiance to Iranian-American issues is legitimate for questioning, as are his business practices and assessment of foreign regimes which may or may not have America’s best interests at heart.

    You might also note that I’m all in favor of Sobhani being included in the debates because there are many questions which should be asked.

    My impression of Ben Cardin is that he’s one of those old-line liberals who believes government is the solution for everything, and that model doesn’t work in an era of $16 trillion national debt.

    As for Dan Bongino, I believe he would be a good Senator despite his political inexperience; however, I’m sure there would be times where he drives me crazy because he could well turn out to be somewhat more moderate than I’d prefer. That’s a risk I’m willing to take.

    I’d rather be bashing Cardin as well, but I think Maryland voters have the right to know about everyone on the ballot and this whole “investment” thing seems pretty pie-in-the-sky to me until I get more details.

  3. This comment from ZoeC ended up in my spam comments, but I managed to back up a page and clip it before it disappeared into the internet ether.

    Thanks Michael for the detailed and articulate response.

    Sobhani has said recently that he will be getting the investments from all around the world, but specifically Middle East countries which he says he has good relations with. I mean those guys have billions of dollars in oil money just sitting around. America under all Presidencies has been good friends with Saudi Arabia so I don’t mind getting money from them for a change. Let’s not hide that our government has been throughout history friends with questionable regimes so that we may further our cause, as a Republican I don’t see anything wrong with that as long as we don’t promote repression, we need their money and business. Can you source his change on tax policy? I too don’t see the fuss with his relations to the Iranian-American community, all exiles are extremely friendly to the U.S. and want democratic change in the brutal Islamic regime of Iran. Thanks for agreeing with me that Sobhani needs to be included in the debates, Dan can ask him the questions he needs to there, and kick his butt, without appearing to be the kicking child he’s acting like now.

    With all this talk of vetting candidates, I didn’t pay much attention to the primary process but did we vet Dan? There are a couple areas I feel uncomfortable with, I’d like to know what you think.

    – Dan says he’s the only middle class candidate, but Secret Service agents make 150k a year, add onto that his other businesses and his wife’s job, and you come to an amount that I think is far beyond “middle class”. There’s a calculator I used at the WSJ that puts 150k at 89th percentile. Sure he’s no millionaire, but that’s still pretty good income. I don’t think being middle class is a good enough argument to be elected.

    – How long has he lived in Maryland? We bring up Sobhani and his life in Iran, all I can find on Bongino is that he supposedly moved to Maryland (born in NY) in 2002, so only 10 years?

    – Dan says he’s a successful small business owner, do you know anything about his businesses? According to his Linkedin MMa Friction has been for 4 years a leader for supplying and selling gear, but a Google search comes up with dead links.

    Looking forward to your response Michael


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