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Walorski's biggest donor: Bremen gun company

Walorski's biggest donor: Bremen gun company

Postby Happy Mom » Sun Jul 31, 2016 8:57 am

Walorski's biggest donor: Bremen gun company
Gun control, climate issues drive Brown family
By Ted Booker South Bend Tribune 2 hrs ago (0)
Walorski's biggest donor: Bremen gun company

Michael Caterina
BCI Defense president J.B. Brown shows parts for a a SQS-15 rifle before and after machining at the Bremen facility. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA
Walorski's biggest donor: Bremen gun company

Walorski's biggest donor: Bremen gun company

BREMEN — In most political campaigns, the top contributor is a large corporation, labor union or political organization.

But in this year's 2nd Congressional District race, the largest contributor is the family who owns Bremen Castings, a foundry and machine shop with about 200 employees, and BCI Defense, an emerging firearms business that makes its own version of the AR-15 rifle.

Why would the family in Marshall County's small town of Bremen contribute so much — nearly $50,000 — to incumbent Republican congressional candidate Jackie Walorski?

That amount was collectively given by four Brown family members in the election cycle that began in January 2015, according to the Federal Election Commission. Overall, Walorski has raised about $1.4 million during this election cycle, while her Democratic opponent, Lynn Coleman, has raised about $290,000.

The Brown family's pair of small businesses are in the cross hairs of two of Capitol Hill's most heated ongoing debates: climate change and gun control.

The family is concerned about threats that gun legislation and environmental regulations pose to their businesses, and they're backing a congresswoman who shares the same vision.

“We have a lot in common with Congresswoman Walorski, who has done a great job of supporting foundries in the U.S. and helped fight against stringent EPA and OSHA regulations,” said J.B. Brown, president of both companies. “She has also been very pro-2nd Amendment and believes in the right to bear arms. She fights for those rights every day, whether she’s in a parade or making a speech in D.C., and is not afraid to promote her values.”

The stakes are high in this family’s fight against regulations, Brown said, and “politics are becoming more relevant. We can’t afford to be sitting on the sidelines.”

He paints the potential outcomes in stark terms.

BCI Defense could shut down if civilian use of the AR-15 is banned, he said. And if new environmental regulations cause electricity rates to rise, it would be a major blow to the bottom line of the energy-intensive foundry, which makes gray and iron ductile castings for a variety of industries.

Brown fears the federal government’s push to regulate emissions for coal-fired plants could cause the cost of electricity to sharply increase for manufacturers statewide.

“Our foundry uses an extreme amount of electricity to recycle metal,” he said. "And if our electricity rates go up, we will become even more un-competitive in the world’s marketplace of manufacturers."

Critics, however, say opponents of gun control and environmental regulations are stoking unfounded fears and taking extreme all-or-nothing stances. They also accuse gun manufacturers of hyping concerns about gun bans to drive up sales.

A spokeswoman for Walorski said in a statement, "Congresswoman Walorski spends every day fighting for 2nd District Hoosiers to strengthen our national security, protect our veterans, and grow our economy, and she is grateful for the wide-ranging support she receives from thousands of Hoosier families and community leaders who support her in that fight."

Other local business people associated with Midwest Poultry Services, Hoosier Racing Tire and Maple Leaf Farms are near the top of Walorski's list of contributors. Executives from larger companies also pitched in. Those associated with MacAndrews & Forbes, which has a stake in AM General, gave $9,100 this past election cycle.

The list of top contributors for Coleman, the Democratic candidate running against Walorski, shows a different base of support. Coleman's top contributors are Democratic organizations and labor unions.

In the current election cycle, four organizations have tied as top contributors by each giving $10,000: the Sheet Metal Workers Union; the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union; the Hoosiers First PAC, which is a Democrat-affiliated political action committee, and DRIVE, which is the Teamsters' union PAC.

"Right now we are focused on talking to Hoosiers across the 2nd District about the issues they care about, like stopping unfair trade deals that send Indiana jobs overseas," Coleman's campaign said in a statement.

Breaking into firearms industry

The Brown family has operated Bremen Castings since 1939. They launched their firearms business at a time when gun control was being hotly debated across the country.

In 2012, the family began brainstorming about using their metal-casting experience to manufacture the assault-style AR-15 rifle. They delayed their plans after the December 2012 massacre that left 26 dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Fear about gun control legislation caused a nationwide scramble to buy semi-automatic assault-style rifles, and parts used to make them quickly sold out. Such weapons became extremely controversial after the Newtown massacre, as the shooter used an AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle.

“When Sandy Hook happened, we couldn’t get any materials to make guns,” said Brown. "It was bad timing because we couldn’t get into the market and had to wait to get materials."

BCI Defense was finally launched in late 2013, roughly a year after the massacre.

Brown said he and his father, James, who is CEO of both companies, decided to make their own version of the AR-15 because of the family’s manufacturing experience and long-standing passion for hunting and firearms. The decision was not, he said, associated with the weapon’s rise in popularity after the Newtown massacre.

“We were doing blueprints for our firearm before Sandy Hook,” he said.

AR-15 stands for Armalite Rifle, design 15 and is the civilian version of the M-16 used by the military. BCI Defense makes its own version of the rifle under a different brand called SQS, which stands for “Status Quo Sucks.” And it makes several parts for the gun: the lower and upper receiver, charging handle, buffer tube, flash suppressor, handguard and safety switches.

Records from the Federal Election Commission show the Brown family started donating to Walorski several years before launching BCI Defense. Family members have collectively donated $95,650 since 2009 to Walorski, who lost her first congressional bid in 2010 before winning in 2012 and 2014.

Recent mass shootings, meanwhile, have kept assault-style rifles the center of the election-year gun control debate in Congress. That intense debate has translated into a lot of sales for retailers and manufacturers of the firearm, such as BCI Defense.

Critics contend that civilian use of assault-style rifles should be banned or restricted because they remain a weapon of choice for mass murderers. Gun advocates, meanwhile, say such rifles are commonly used by people for self-defense, hunting and sport shooting.

There's no doubt that fears of gun control, fueled after each mass shooting and the ensuing debates about guns in America, have driven up sales.

The firearms business has enjoyed an increase of 40 percent in total sales compared with 2015 — a trend Brown largely attributes to the election-year debate over gun control. Its two wholesalers, which sell the rifles to retailers across all 50 states, have recently boosted their orders. A handful of Indiana firearm retailers to which the business sells guns directly are also ordering more.

“After this last mass shooting in Orlando, we’ve had an increase in sales. We’ve had orders that have either doubled or tripled,” he said, adding that the facility’s production limit has almost been reached. “If sales rise much higher, we would reinvest in more equipment.”

Gun manufacturers such as BCI Defense offer warnings about what they see as a potentially disastrous Hillary Clinton presidency, saying they are worried about a ban on semi-automatic rifles. Clinton's website says the presidential candidate, if elected, would "work to keep assault weapons off our streets and supports reinstating the assault weapons ban."

“Hillary’s agenda has increased our orders," Brown said, "but I would rather have orders stay the same than have our rights taken away. If AR-15 rifles are banned, that could be the end of us."

Tribune staff writer Kevin Allen contributed to this report. ... 88e15.html
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