Commentary Magazine


Topic: Department of Energy

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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Too Busy to Enforce Sanctions

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

Read Less