An analysis of federal campaign contributions finds that key figures at six of America's most prominent Islamist organizations have favored Democrats over Republicans by a ratio of 12 to 1 since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This trend began with multiple donations to Cynthia McKinney dated September 11, 2001, reversing a previous pattern that had seen Islamist officials spend slightly more on Republicans. Their preference for Democrats has solidified during the past 13 years and shows no signs of waning. What does this say about the politicians who benefit from Islamist largesse?
Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, recently launched Islamist Money in Politics (IMIP), to monitor Islamists' influence in the halls of power, inform the public about which politicians accept their tainted money, and hold accountable those who do. IMIP's inaugural data release focuses on the national organizations of six Islamist entities — the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim American Society (MAS), and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) — as well as CAIR's many local chapters.
Names of important personnel, both current and former, were mined from the groups' Internal Revenue Service filings and/or website listings, some going back more than a decade. The Federal Election Commission's online database, which spans the late 1990s to the present, was then searched for donations to candidates, joint fundraising committees, relevant political action committees, and parties. IMIP employed biographical information to select only those contributions that could reasonably be attributed to the individuals of interest, rejecting ones likely to have been made by unrelated persons who share their names. See IMIP's description of methodology for details and a discussion of the challenges.
As of now, the IMIP database tabulates nearly $700,000 in donations. Surely many more people and contributions remain to be added, but the data already constitute a large and representative sample that is sufficient for an initial pass at quantifying Islamists' political affinities.
First, who contributes? Major donors tend to be board members rather than staffers. While many of the biggest contributors maintain relatively low public profiles, several are quite familiar. With outlays totaling $56,800, the most generous funder of politicians in IMIP's database is Kenny Gamble, who goes by Luqman Abdul Haqq in his position on MANA's governing body. An Islamist-aligned music and real estate mogul, Gamble is tied to the "Islamic paramilitary boys group" known as the Jawala Scouts and has been accused of working to build a self-contained "black Muslim enclave" in South Philadelphia. Also among the top 20 donors are CAIR executive director Nihad Awad, who has contributed under numerous variants of his name; former MAS president and current CAIR national board member Esam Omeish, who resigned from a Virginia immigration panel in 2007 after a video emerged of his speech touting the Palestinians' embrace of "the jihad way" against Israel; and Zead Ramadan, the CAIR-New York board member who unsuccessfully ran for New York City Council in 2013.
With regard to recipients, the Democratic Party dominates. Leading the all-time list by vacuuming up close to one in every five dollars is Keith Ellison, the Islamist-leaning Muslim congressman from Minnesota who has a long history of collaborating with Islamist groups. Barack Obama, whose policies have been popular with Islamists, comes in second when direct contributions are combined with those sent to joint fundraising committees associated with his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Third is Cynthia McKinney, the far-left former congresswoman from Georgia who peddled conspiracy theories and harsh critiques of U.S. foreign policy in the wake of 9/11; that she ranks so high despite the fact that most donations to her were collected during a one-year, post-9/11 window testifies to Islamists' endorsement of her adversarial stance at the outset of America's military response to Islamic terrorism. Fourth is Indiana's André Carson, the second Muslim congressman to be elected; he told attendees at the 2012 ICNA–MAS convention that educators should model American schools after Islamic madrassas. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rounds out the top five.
However, Democrats did not always prevail in the battle for Islamist cash. According to IMIP's current data, Republicans actually received about 15 percent more Islamist-related contributions than Democrats did over the several years prior to 9/11. The Islamists' favorite Republican of that period was Californian Tom Campbell, who contested a Senate seat in 2000. Campbell's warm relationships with radical Muslims, such as terror operative Sami al-Arian, are thoroughly documented. Further, although IMIP features only a handful of entries from the 2000 presidential race, there is more money for George W. Bush than for Al Gore. This is not a surprise because Bush won the backing of the American Muslim Political Coordination Committee, an Islamist-heavy coalition.
But 9/11 and the subsequent Republican-led war on terror changed everything, even the destination of Islamist money. IMIP detects the first hints of a sharp left turn in the form of donations to Cynthia McKinney from three Islamist figures, including Nihad Awad, on September 11, 2001 — undoubtedly before the Bush administration had a chance to do much to upset the self-proclaimed guardians of the Muslim community in the post-9/11 era. IMIP records no other contribution to any recipient within two weeks in either direction, making the date seem less coincidental. Many more donations would be routed to McKinney from Islamists' wallets in the months to come. Over the 365 days that followed the 9/11 attacks, IMIP measures an 8-to-1 ratio of contributions in the Democrats' favor. A majority of them flowed to McKinney.
This pro-Democratic tilt has continued to the present. Based on contributions now cataloged by IMIP, Democrats outraised Republicans by a factor of 4.8 from 2003 to 2006, 29.7 from 2007 to 2010, and 17.5 from 2011 to 2014. The two most recent blocks reflect the impact of Islamist enthusiasm for Obama's White House runs. As for the last three Republican presidential nominees, IMIP has located no contributions to Bush's 2004 campaign, none to John McCain's in 2008, and just one to Mitt Romney for $1,000 ahead of the 2012 primaries. Overall, the people in IMIP's sample have donated 12 times as much to Democrats since September 11, 2001.
Islamist-affiliated individuals presumably support Democrats for the same reason that other subsets of Americans throw their weight behind certain politicians and parties: they expect Democrats to support them, at least at the level of providing the best political landscape in which to pursue their objectives. But as Daniel Pipes points out, we are not dealing here with professionals attempting to "tweak the tax code" to their advantage or even a minority population striving to secure equal rights. Islamists intend to alter the fabric of the liberal democratic system, a goal characterized by the Muslim Brotherhood, in a memorandum outlining its North American strategy, as "a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within," culminating in Islamic rule.
Each of the six groups analyzed by IMIP is connected to the Brotherhood or its dream of institutionalizing Shari'a. ICNA, ISNA, and the Islamic Association for Palestine, CAIR's immediate predecessor, appear on the Brotherhood's 1991 "list of our organizations and the organizations of our friends." Both CAIR and ISNA were designated as unindicted co-conspirators in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a charity convicted of bankrolling Hamas, the Brotherhood's Palestinian wing. Prosecutors classified CAIR among the "individuals/entities who are and/or were members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee and/or its organizations"; they named ISNA as one of the "individuals/entities who are and/or were members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood." Furthermore, according to a brief filed by the government in a separate case, "MAS was founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America." Two Muslim Brothers also formed MPAC. Finally, MANA is helmed by radical cleric Siraj Wahhaj, who has spoken of replacing the Constitution with Islamic law.
Because the various board members and staffers researched by IMIP have participated in defining and executing the ideological agendas of the above groups, their campaign contributions are a matter of concern. This is not to suggest that the dollar amounts uncovered thus far — quite small by American standards — are tipping any elections. But even in modest quantities, money can purchase political access and open the doors of influence. When it comes to the agents of radical Islam, these doors must be barred shut.
No remotely mainstream politician would knowingly accept, let alone get away with accepting, contributions from a leader of a white supremacist organization. Why should it be any different for a leader of an Islamic supremacist organization? Those who represent the American people or seek to do so, especially in federal offices that oversee counterterrorism and foreign affairs, need to begin saying no to funds from these problematic sources. Islamist Money in Politics is a first step in nudging candidates and parties toward the right decision — and, where that fails, empowering voters to make informed choices of their own about politicians who wittingly or unwittingly legitimize, enable, or embolden America's enemies.
David J. Rusin is a research fellow at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.