Joe Kent, the Donald Trump-endorsed Republican candidate in Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District, clearly has a lot to hide. He’s done his best to cover up his multifarious connections to the right-wing extremists—including white nationalists, Proud Boys, and their cohorts—who provided him with his earliest and most vociferous support. He downplays the reality that he is a carpetbagger who only moved to the district across the state border from his hometown of Portland, Oregon, in 2021.
Now there are serious questions with real legal ramifications about how he’s being bankrolled—including doubts that his supposed employer is a real company—and instead of clarifying the issue, he’s been busily throwing up a smokescreen to throw off reporters and the public.
Kent’s dubious employment was exposed this week by William Bredderman of The Daily Beast, who went searching for the company from which Kent claims he receives an annual income of over $120,000—and came up empty-handed. Kent’s campaign first responded by giving vague assurances the company exists, and subsequently handed Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) a handful of photos of tax documents that raised more questions than they answered. No reporter has yet been able to actually speak with anyone from the company, and his former campaign manager told OPB that Kent doesn’t appear to actually work, but instead campaigns full-time.
The company, Advanced Enterprise Solutions (AES), is ostensibly registered in Delaware and operates out of Virginia. Kent has described it as a “tech start-up,” and says it works with 5G infrastructure. He also has repeatedly called it American Enterprise Solutions, including on his campaign filings.
Bredderman’s report—which was based on searches from county-level business registration records to databases of government contractors—focused primarily on finding a company by the latter name, and he only was able to speak with people at companies with that name who either said they had never heard of Kent and didn’t employ him, or companies that had no employees. When OPB reporters came calling, however, the campaign explained that the company instead used the former name, and that the appearance of the latter on campaign documents, and its use by Kent in his speeches, was simply a mistake they intended to correct.
However, no reporter has yet been able to speak with anyone from AES. Its only online presence is a brief report in the OpenCorporates database. The Kent campaign directed OPB to the Washington, D.C., law firm Ambrose Partners, which it said represents the firm that employs Kent.
The attorneys would only confirm that Kent “is employed by a U.S. company,” and would not identify it as AES or any other entity. They said the company “does not wish to be identified, only because while their employees are free as individuals to participate in politics, they as a company do not.” The law firm added that the employer “fully supports his patriotic pursuit of civil service as they do for all citizens regardless of political affiliation.”
Kent’s campaign provided OPB with a handful of photos of tax documents only showing the company’s name as Advanced Enterprise Solutions, based in Virginia, while redacting its tax identification number, but showing that it had paid Kent a salary of $122,000 in 2021 and $111,000 in 2020. However, the company does not have an active business license in Virginia, having failed to pay its annual fee last August.
When the Kent campaign filed its financial disclosure in April 2022, it reported Kent’s salary from “American enterprise solutions.” Kent’s senior policy adviser, Matt Braynard, told OPB that it was simply a typographical error and blamed himself.
“The typo is my fault and I accept full responsibility for the transcription error,” Braynard explained via email. “We will be updating/amending the report post haste.”
But Kent himself repeatedly called the firm “American Enterprise Solutions” at campaign events. Federal records, as Bredderman reported, show that he used that name to list his employer from May 2020 to July 2021 in over 30 donations he made to politicians and political organizations.
Braynard told OPB that Kent’s job is legitimate and he works regularly, and so did Kent in a phone interview. “I do have flexibility, and I can dictate my schedule. I don’t have a boss, you know, making sure I clock in and clock out and report at a desk somewhere,” Kent told OPB. “But it requires, you know, a fair amount of work on a daily basis.”
However, Kent’s former campaign manager, Byron Sanford, who oversaw the candidate electoral efforts through all of 2021, tells a very different story. In an interview with OPB, he called Kent’s employment a “phantom job,” and said that he spends most of his time campaigning.
“I really don’t think he put any actual hours into doing anything other than campaigning,” Sanford said.
Sanford described how Kent’s schedule was packed with media appearances on right-wing media, including Tucker Carlson’s and Sean Hannity’s Fox News shows and Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast. He also packed his schedule with campaign appearances; Kent has boasted that he has held over 240 “town hall” events.
“I think people should know that (Kent’s) using these funds to run for office,” Sanford said. “That money is coming from somewhere. It’s coming from this company that he doesn’t even work for.”
Both Kent and Braynard, unsurprisingly, dismissed Sanford—who currently works in Nevada for a political action committee that works to elect Republicans—as a jilted former staffer. Kent insisted the company is real and provides analysis of telecommunications infrastructure, but mainly works internationally. Its executive, he said, is a man named Sean Reed who he met through other veterans like himself, and who hired him in August 2019. He says he is a project manager for AES.
“We’ll go out and do mapping and survey and say ‘This is what the infrastructure is, it’s capable of this,’” Kent said.
How often would say he’s clocked in for work? Kent told OPB that “it varies.”
“There’s definitely work weeks that are lighter,” he said. “But then there are, you know, 30-hour work weeks, 40-hour work weeks.”
According to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings, Kent’s campaign has raised nearly $3 million dollars to date. FEC regulations threaten stiff penalties for providing inaccurate information.
Kent was joined this week on the campaign trail by former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who recently renounced the Democratic Party and has subsequently become a favorite of far-right “populists” like Bannon, on whose podcast she also has appeared, while campaigning for Trumpist MAGA candidates.
“The reason I am here and not back home in Hawaii is because our very freedom and our very future is at stake in this election,” Gabbard told the crowd at a Kent event in the small town of Bucoda. “And I do not use those words lightly.”
Gabbard told the audience that Democrats and the Biden administration are undermining “God-given rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution,” with the help of with “Big Tech” internet and social-media companies.
This kind of conspiracism—ranging from COVID denialism to election denialism and avid support for the Jan. 6 insurrectionists—has been a central feature of Kent’s campaign since its outset. A veteran of military intelligence whose wife, a Navy cryptologist, was killed in a Syrian suicide bombing in 2019, he first moved back to his native Portland that year and voted in Oregon’s elections in 2020, but moved to the rural Clark County town of Yacolt in early 2021, just before he announced his candidacy. He often has cited his military credentials to support the conspiracy theories he spouts—claiming variously that COVID vaccines are a globalist plot, that the 2020 election was fraudulently decided, that the FBI orchestrated the Jan. 6 insurrection—in his campaign speeches and at his “town halls.”
Braynard, who replaced Sanford as Kent’s campaign manager in January 2022, is a former Trump aide who organized a protest in Washington, D.C., against the continued detention of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, who they called “political prisoners.” One of the keynote speakers at that September 2021 event was Joe Kent. Braynard is also a onetime campaigner for white-nationalist hero Patrick Buchanan, and worked for Trump’s campaign in 2015-16 (he says he was fired for seeking a raise). He has played a role in efforts to undo Trump’s 2020 defeat, including serving as an “expert witness” in challenges to election results in states like Arizona and Georgia.
Kent is so deeply immured in the conspiracist swamps that some of his early supporters have turned on him, claiming—mostly on the basis of his deep connections with military intelligence—that he’s secretly a CIA operative. One of them site up a website devoted to those claims and promotes a #JoeKentIsCIA hashtag, claiming Kent is a “deep state puppet.”
Moreover, Kent’s associations with conspiracists and far-right activists, including white nationalists, are extensive and varied. This is particularly the case with Kent’s long association with Joey Gibson, the founder and leader of the street-brawling group Patriot Prayer, which has an extensive history with a rotating cast of violent extremists and white nationalists. Many of Kent’s early campaign appearances—including a January 2022 rally against the COVID-19 vaccine based on misinformation—featured Gibson joining him on stage as a speaker.
Kent also was photographed socializing with Gibson and several of his Patriot Prayer cohorts at an August gathering at Cottonwood Beach near Washougal to honor the memory of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a member of the group who had been shot to death a year beforehand by a Portland resident who was tracked down and killed in short order. Similarly, Kent shows up in a Patriot Prayer group selfie taken by one of the group’s more notorious figures, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a Proud Boy currently awaiting trial on multiple felony assault counts.
Later, Kent got into a well-publicized spat with notorious white nationalist Nick Fuentes after the latter’s infamous America First PAC convention at which a number of Republicans spoke. Fuentes also caught considerable attention for praising Russia’s Vladimir Putin and comparing him favorably to Adolf Hitler.
These remarks sent Kent—who has continuously embraced the America First label and its associated “Groyper army,” and reportedly had conversed with Fuentes about social media strategy—running for cover. Fuentes went on his popular podcast and described his conversation with Kent. One of Kent’s Republican opponents called on him to denounce the association with Fuentes.
Kent, who has a Twitter following of 125,000, claimed his opponents were “spreading lies about me,” and insisted that he condemned Fuentes’ politics. He said he didn’t seek the white nationalist’s endorsement “due (to) his focus on race/religion.”
About a month before the dispute broke out, Kent had been interviewed by David Carlson of the Groyper-adjacent white nationalist group American Populist Union (which shortly thereafter rebranded itself as American Virtue), a kind of competing far-right organization that embraces most of the ideological fundamentals of white nationalism but tries to eschew the incendiary rhetoric of groups like Fuentes.
After the feud broke out with the Groypers—culminating in Fuentes taunting Kent, “You’re not for white people. You’re not for America. You’re not for Christianity. You’re not for our heritage”—Carlson reinterviewed Kent, who repeated his reasons for distancing himself from Fuentes, more for strategic reasons than ideological ones.
Kent also began appearing on a variety of far-right programs with nationwide reach. He was a guest of Infowars’ Owen Shroyer on two occasions. He started appearing regularly on ex-Trump aide Bannon’s War Room podcast. On one of those occasions, he promoted his and Gibson’s January 2022 rally against “COVID tyranny” and the “forced quarantine.”
Kent defeated incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera-Beutler in the July primary after she was targeted by Trump for having voted for his impeachment in February 2021, and promptly began working hard to cover up these connections. He now faces a Democratic opponent, Marie Glusenkamp Pérez, who finished with the most votes in the top-two primary. However, Kent will be favored in a district that has trended Republican over the past couple of decades.
Gluesenkamp Pérez said the November race will be “a national bellwether for the direction of our country,” and denounced his ties to far-right nationalists, saying his “unapologetic extremism and divisive approach demonstrate he is unfit for public office.”
Ballots have already been mailed out in Washington state.
The 2022 midterms are just around the corner, and you sent us a ton of fantastic questions for The Downballot mailbag episode we promised this week, so we brought on Daily Kos Elections contributing editor Steve Singiser to help us answer them. Among the many topics we cover: which states are likely to report results slowly—and how will those results change over time; the House districts that look like key bellwethers for how the night might go, and which might offer surprises; why and how Democrats make the hard decisions on which races to triage; the top legislative chambers to keep an eye on; and plenty more!
Fight the tide of Republican extremism with a better Democrat, Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez. Pitch in to her 2022 victory fund.