A congressional candidate in Kansas has been caught embellishing the facts about his own business record.
"I didn’t own it, no ... when I say I helped start and grow, it was operational," Republican candidate Steve Watkins, who is running to represent the 2nd congressional district in Kansas, told The Kansas City Star after initially claiming on a number of occasions that he had "started" a business known as VIAP Inc., — which is actually a wholly owned subsidiary of a global project management firm based out of the nation's capital called Versar Inc.
"There were processes, systems that didn’t exist and I helped to start and create those processes and systems and products and services that we provided clients."
The Star contacted Watkins about his business record when their investigation into company records, as well as their own interviews, revealed that VIAP had existed for years before Watkins was hired as a consultant and that Versar's chief executive had at the time given credit for building VIAP to someone other than Watkins.
The newspaper was unable to find any public records which identified Watkins as having ownership stake in either VIAP or Versar, and at the time Versar Services was founded in 1997, Watkins was still a student at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. The candidate's financial disclosure forms fail to mention VIAP among his assets and a number of corporate executives told The Star that they had never heard of Watkins being either an owner or a founder of VIAP. Most didn't even recall who he was.
The Star also chronicled a number of occasions in which Watkins had claimed to have helped start the company. His statements included:
"I got out of the military, started a small business and grew it from three people to 470 people. So I know what it’s like to have to sweat it and work to make payroll, to not take any salary so you can make ends meet."
"I started an engineering and security company. It was a paramilitary company that did work strictly for the U.S. government. This was in Iraq and Afghanistan. We grew to a number of countries. We grew from three people to 470 with me as the principal during that growth period."
"I grew that outfit from three people to 450 people. There were times when I did not take pay to make sure my employees could make ends meet."
Watkins' campaign spokesman, Bryan Piligra, told the Star that Watkins had "never intentionally claimed" to have owned VIAP.
The revelation about Watkins' fudged business background couldn't come at a worst time for the Republican Party. They are already widely considered to be at risk of losing the House of Representatives to the Democrats, and Watkins' Kansas district is considered to be highly competitive as he runs against Democratic candidate Paul Davis. A recent poll by The New York Times Upshot and Siena College found that 45 percent of voters in the district supported Davis and 44 percent supported Watkins, with 12 percent remaining undecided. The poll had a 4.8 percent margin of error.