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May 14, 2007

Wealthy anti-war activist a Demo candidate for president

Posted by David Postman at 3:48 PM

Dal LaMagna, anti-war activist, wealthy businessman, blogger and confidante to Rep. Jim McDermott and members of the Iraqi Parliament, is running for president.

LaMagna confirmed just now that he will run and his Web site has gone live. The campaign also e-mailed potential supporters today saying an announcement will come soon.

That announcement may come from Baghdad.

LaMagna told me that he wants to fly to Iraq to continue his anti-war work with Iraqi members of parliament, then announce his run for the presidency as he leaves Iraq to return to the United States.

The e-mail sent to potential supporters says:

But, it's not going to be your typical campaign. Instead of traveling the country shaking hand while visiting diners, Dal intends to continue working towards stopping the violence in Iraq and constructing a competent government in waiting. He'll be traveling to Iraq where he hopes to cut through the Gordian knot and help facilitate an end to the violence by meeting with Iraqi citizens, generals, and representatives of the Resistance.

At the same time, his campaign staff will be working at home, listening to Americans and what they want in their government, determining the best ways to address the wealth disparity in the country, and promoting responsible capitalism, among a host of other issues.

Since January, LaMagna has been living and working in D.C., trying to get members of Congress to listen to Iraqis as part of the debate on ending the war. The New York Times wrote today about one of LaMagna's major efforts, being the D.C. host for Muhammad al-Daini, a Sunni Arab member of the Iraqi Parliament.

"The problem in Iraq is the American Army," Mr. Daini told a group of attentive American legislators gathered last week in the office of Representative Jim McDermott, an antiwar Democrat from Seattle. "What brought terrorism, what brought Al Qaida and what brought Iranian influence is the Americans."

Mr. Daini, soft-spoken and generally unsmiling, has been ushered from meeting to meeting by a public relations firm paid by an American businessman who calls the Iraqi politician "a true humanitarian." The businessman, Dal LaMagna, says he is devoting the fortune he made selling his high-end grooming tools business, Tweezerman, to seeking an end to the violence in Iraq, a goal he says Mr. Daini shares.

But a closer look at Mr. Daini's record in Iraq suggests a more complicated picture. The real lesson of his tour may be the difficulty of sorting out from Washington who is who in a distant, bitter sectarian conflagration, where hyperbole is rife and solid facts are hard to come by.

According to the Times, Daini's Shiite opponents say he has ties to Sunni insurgents.

He has publicly praised the Sunni insurgency for taking on American troops, and a reporter for a Shiite newspaper has accused him of complicity in the killing of the reporter's brother.

The Iraqi government says that documents Daini has been showing people in D.C. — and are said to be evidence of wrongdoing by the Maliki government — are forgeries.

LaMagna told me the story was "pretty tough." He told the Times he stands by Daini:

I like to hang with someone to get to know him," said Mr. LaMagna. "We brought in a cook. I jog with him in the morning. We have the same agenda: we want to stop the violence."

The Times didn't know that LaMagna was planning a run for president, or that Daini may play a supporting role in the campaign. Daini is scheduled to return to Baghdad Wednesday. Said LaMagna:

"He's going to go over and set things up so I can actually meet with people who I ordinarily wouldn't be able to meet with and then I'll go over there and expect to declare from there."

LaMagna said he would not stay in the heavily fortified Green Zone while in Iraq but get out to talk to as many Iraqis as he can. He said that being a candidate for president, even one not well known in America, will help open doors for him in Iraq.

"I don't know what it is about the White House. Even if you're running for the White House people take you more seriously. It helps getting access."

LaMagna is wealthy from the sale of his beauty tools business, Tweezerman. But he doesn't plan on spending much of that on his campaign. He says he has already loaned his campaign $49,000, which would still allow him to qualify for federal funds, too.

He calls himself a "progressive capitalist" and says that gives him a different take on issues than his ideological peer, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the liberal anti-war candidate making his second run for the Democratic presidential nomination. LaMagna said he also talked to some of the major Democratic candidates already in the race, but found their interest in him limited.

"I made an attempt to get myself involved in the other campaigns and sure they want me involved. They want me to raise money for them. But that's not what I'm about."

LaMagna ran as a Democrat for Congress from New York in 1996 and 2000. He lives in Poulsbo and D.C. He founded ProgressiveGovernemnt.org, and blogs at the Huffington Post.

He was co-chairman of Cantwell's 2006 re-election campaign. He got that post after he played a key role in getting Cantwell's Democratic primary opponent, Mark Wilson, to quit the race and join the incumbent's campaign.

I ran into LaMagna in January at reception for Cantwell. He told me he had just moved to D.C. to work full time trying to bring Iraqis to D.C. in an effort to help end the violence in Iraq.

He and McDermott met with Iraqis in Jordan on a trip in November. They came up with a plan that they said represented what Iraqis want as part of an end to the war. McDermott and LaMagna said that Iraqis want U.S. troops out of the cities and instead sent to guard the borders with Iran and Syria. They also want the former Iraqi army reconstituted and rearmed.

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