The co-founder of the group that placed a bounty on the head of Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue has a rich criminal history covering everything from bombings to pot smuggling, a detail that a chamber official says raises serious security concerns for Donohue and others.
Velvet Revolution, a network of dozens of mostly liberal groups that formed in 2004, started an ad campaign this month offering $200,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Donohue, whose business group has put up roadblocks to several planks of the Obama administration's domestic agenda.
The group, which is fishing for whistleblowers from Donohue's past, started the campaign in response to the chamber's opposition to climate change legislation and health care reform.
But a chamber representative said Thursday that the criminal history of the group's co-founder, Brett Kimberlin, raises red flags. The representative said that history "tends to discredit" the Velvet Revolution and that the chamber might be compelled to increase its own security in response to the ad campaign.
"This one is headed up by somebody who has a demonstrated history of extreme violence and a track record of telling lies," said the representative, who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons. "Even though the violent acts of which this person was convicted happened some time ago, it does raise security concerns. ... Those are concerns we have to take seriously and we're continuing to evaluate."
Kimberlin gained notoriety in 1988 when he said he had sold marijuana to then-vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle. But his criminal record dates back to 1974, when he was convicted of perjury in Indiana stemming from a grand jury investigation into drug trafficking. Though he served only a matter of days in jail for that offense, he later was convicted on conspiracy to import marijuana and several charges relating to his identification as the "Speedway Bomber."
The pot conviction came after a 1979 arrest for his involvement in a botched shipment of thousands of pounds of Colombian marijuana. According to reports written at the time, pilots carrying the drugs were running low on fuel and decided to dump the cargo in Texas. Marijuana rained down on the local community, and Kimberlin, who was reportedly managing the ground crew receiving the contraband, was arrested hours later.
Around the same time, he was tied to another serious crime -- a series of bombings in Speedway, Ind., that started in early 1978. Most of them destroyed property, but one took the leg of a man name Carl DeLong. DeLong later committed suicide.
After plea-bargaining in the marijuana case in Texas, Kimberlin went to Indiana to face the other charges. After several trials and a hung jury, he was convicted in 1981 on several charges ranging from manufacturing and possessing an explosive device to impersonating a federal officer to malicious damage by explosives with personal injury.
Kimberlin was sentenced to 50 years, but he was paroled in 1993. He has maintained his innocence all along -- one controversial element of the investigation was that some witness testimony in the Indiana bombing case was obtained through hypnosis.
While in jail, Kimberlin attracted national attention before and after the 1988 presidential election when he charged that he had sold marijuana to Quayle, George H.W. Bush's running mate, on numerous occasions. Quayle denied it, but Kimberlin continued to stand by his claim even after he was released from prison.
Since leaving prison, Kimberlin has become active in promoting voting reform, a cause that is a big part of the Velvet Revolution agenda.
The group launched its StoptheChamber campaign in October and started offering a bounty for information on Donohue a month later. A $100,000 reward was increased to $200,000 early this month, thanks to what board member Kevin Zeese called a "handful of large donors," whom he would not identify.
Zeese on Monday defended the campaign against the chamber, calling the business organization a "right-wing extremist group" sticking up for the corporate "status quo." His group has established a tip line to field leads on Donohue's past . Zeese said the group is "pursuing" several leads that have come in.
A representative for Velvet Revolution could not be reached to respond to the chamber's concerns about Kimberlin's criminal past.
The chamber claims it is considering "legal options" in response to the ad.