Commentary Magazine


Topic: Carol Shea-Porter

Increasing Arabs’ Clout in Congress: The NH-1 GOP Primary

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.'”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.'”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

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What Do They Do Now?

John Harris of Politico observes that Obama is in new, uncharted territory: “With the big-bang strategy officially a failure, Obama’s speech revealed in real-time a president groping for a new and more effective one. The speech was woven with frequent acknowledgements that the laws of political gravity applied to him after all.” Well, that – and a deep and abiding desire to pass the buck (e.g., to Congress, to “special interests”). On his signature domestic issue, he has left a void and much confusion. He urged Congress to keep at it, but to what end and when wasn’t clear:

Obama offered no clarity at all on exactly when or how this would happen after the stalemate caused by the Republican capture of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts. His tepid rallying cry: “As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.”

There is understandably concern in the Democratic ranks. What are they to do now? They are going to have to run on something, after all. Yet their electoral position continues to deteriorate. The Cook Political Report’s e-mail tells us:

In the districts of Democratic Reps. Baron Hill (IN-09), Mark Schauer (MI-07), Dina Titus (NV-03), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), and Glenn Nye (VA-02), we no longer see the incumbent Democrats as clear favorites for reelection. We now rate 50 Democratic-held seats as Lean Democratic or more vulnerable, including 20 Democratic seats in the Toss Up column. Republicans need to pick up 40 seats to take back the House majority.

Perhaps the Democrats will figure it out in time, but it is far from clear what signature issue or issues will take the place of health care. The president made many small suggestions ill-suited to tackle a very big problem — high unemployment. Unless he can make headway on that big issue and provide direction to his party, we will see, I suspect, further erosion of support for Democrats who have now acquired a dual and electorally disastrous reputation. Conservatives and independents consider them too liberal and irresponsible; their base finds them inept. That’s not a recipe for holding majority control of both houses.

John Harris of Politico observes that Obama is in new, uncharted territory: “With the big-bang strategy officially a failure, Obama’s speech revealed in real-time a president groping for a new and more effective one. The speech was woven with frequent acknowledgements that the laws of political gravity applied to him after all.” Well, that – and a deep and abiding desire to pass the buck (e.g., to Congress, to “special interests”). On his signature domestic issue, he has left a void and much confusion. He urged Congress to keep at it, but to what end and when wasn’t clear:

Obama offered no clarity at all on exactly when or how this would happen after the stalemate caused by the Republican capture of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts. His tepid rallying cry: “As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.”

There is understandably concern in the Democratic ranks. What are they to do now? They are going to have to run on something, after all. Yet their electoral position continues to deteriorate. The Cook Political Report’s e-mail tells us:

In the districts of Democratic Reps. Baron Hill (IN-09), Mark Schauer (MI-07), Dina Titus (NV-03), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), and Glenn Nye (VA-02), we no longer see the incumbent Democrats as clear favorites for reelection. We now rate 50 Democratic-held seats as Lean Democratic or more vulnerable, including 20 Democratic seats in the Toss Up column. Republicans need to pick up 40 seats to take back the House majority.

Perhaps the Democrats will figure it out in time, but it is far from clear what signature issue or issues will take the place of health care. The president made many small suggestions ill-suited to tackle a very big problem — high unemployment. Unless he can make headway on that big issue and provide direction to his party, we will see, I suspect, further erosion of support for Democrats who have now acquired a dual and electorally disastrous reputation. Conservatives and independents consider them too liberal and irresponsible; their base finds them inept. That’s not a recipe for holding majority control of both houses.

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