TAMPA — Sometimes a cigar is a political statement.
That’s the idea behind sendclintoncigars.com, a Tampa-based website that wants to send Hillary Clinton’s New York campaign office more than 2,000 cigars, with the ultimate goal of sending a million while raising money for military related charity.
“If you’re tired of Hillary’s lies, cheating, and deceitful practices join us in telling her ‘No cigar in 2016!’ by purchasing a cigar that will be delivered, with thousands of others, directly to her 2016 Campaign Headquarters!” declares the website, a nod to the 1998 sex scandal involving then-President Bill Clinton and then-intern Monica Lewinsky.
The ensuing uproar over the affair led to revelations about the use of a cigar for sexual purposes.
The plan to ship the cigars, however, unraveled when the cigar supplier declined the sale Thursday morning after reading about it on TBO.com.
“We were negotiating for selling the cigars for a charity event, but when the article came out, we were concerned, because our company is apolitical,” said Shandra Lee, vice president of marketing for the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. of Ybor City.
Lee said the company was never told what the charity was for, a fact with which website organizers concur.
Website organizers say they are now scrambling to find a new supplier.
“We were just sitting here here discussing this,” said Rob Peters, an Army veteran who helped come up with the idea for the website. “We are looking into a new supplier as we speak.”
Peters said his team didn’t mention the Hillary Clinton angle out of concern that it would raise red flags and prevent a sale.
Peters, who said that he was under the impression that the cigars were on order and heading to Clinton’s office, added that his team is also seeking legal advice concerning the declined order.
The website was the brainchild of Peters and some friends, who were having a discussion on Facebook shortly after Clinton announced her bid for the White House.
“It started as an off-hand comment,” Peters said.
That comment turned into action, Peters said, as he and his business partner, Eric Haskins, also a veteran, created the website, which launched April 22.
“We believe that America is ready for a female president, but not Hillary,” said Peters, 41, one of the founders of Far Sighted Media Inc., a Tampa media holding firm. “She’s emotionally unstable, combative, deceitful, and demonstrates no good qualities as a leader. Everything she touches comes back mired in conspiracy, deceit and misdirection. She demonstrates, as the recent Clinton Foundation debacle shows, no loyalty to America or to it’s citizens.”
Officials from the Clinton campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.
The website grew popular after it was featured in conservative media forums, eventually winding up on the Facebook page of conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.
“We had to spend the weekend updating our servers because they were getting hit so hard,” said Peters, who, along with Haskins, is a web developer.
So far, the website has had 2.5 million unique page views, Peters said.
The website is offering cigars at a range of prices — one for $3, three for $5 or five for $10.
“We want to give 80 percent of the money to charity,” Peters said, with the rest going to purchasing and shipping.
Eric Newman, president and co-owner of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. said he wouldn’t sell to any organization with a political bent, regardless of affiliation, and that Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Democrat, has been instrumental in the fight to protect his company, the city’s last cigar factory.
Initially denying his company was going to sell the cigars to Peters’ group, Newman acknowledged that the two parties were negotiating a deal. But not at the price quoted by Peters.
While the cigar supply is now in limbo, the ultimate goal of finding a charity to accept the funds may also be difficult.
Initially Peters had tried to steer donations to the Wounded Warrior Project on his website. But on April 27, the Wounded Warrior Project demanded that he remove the references to their charity, because he had not sought permission, according to a letter from the charity provided by Peters.
The charity is non-partisan and does not affiliate with any specific party, said Jessie Gueterman, a Wounded Warrior Project spokeswoman. Peters, she added, never contacted the organization.
Peters said he will keep looking until he finds a military-themed charity willing to accept the money.
The cigar effort is not strictly partisan, Peters said, adding that he works with Democrats and Republicans and that he is a Libertarian.
So who does he want in the White House?
“I would really love to see Gary Johnson,” he said, referring to the former New Mexico governor who ran unsuccessfully for President in 2012.
Stay with TBO.com for updates.