The best that money can buy

The Mujaheddin-e Khalq has managed to get lots of important Americans on its payroll, in pretty clear violation of a couple of laws. This would be bothersome, even if the group were less creepy than in fact it is.

What does it take to get important American political and national-security figures to illegally lobby on behalf of the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, a Marxist-Islamist cult with American blood on its hands, tied to Saddam Hussein and officially designated as a terrorist organization?

Why, money, of course. With enough “speaking fees” ($40k for eight minutes?) and “travel expenses” in your pocket, it’s not hard to convince yourself that a group which supported Iraq in its war against Iran, and which one expert describes as “a cross between Hezbollah and the Branch Davidians,” is some sort of Iranian democratic opposition. (A RAND report gives some background.) And if the money comes from a network of front groups, you have plausible deniability (or perhaps, if you’re not very bright, genuine ignorance) about taking money from a designated terrorist group, which is a no-no. (Clarence Page says he wasn’t told that the rally he was paid to address was pro-MEK.)

Or you could just figure that terrorism isn’t such a bad thing if it’s directed against Iran, which is what led the Bush Administration to provide special operations training to MEK forces.

No one seems to have any clear idea about where the money comes from or how it moves around. But there’s clearly enough of it to put lots of prominent consciences to sleep. Even if the MEK weren’t designated as a terrorist group, taking money to lobby on behalf of any foreign entity requires you to register as a foreign agent, which apparently no one has.

The list (in full at the jump) is depressingly long and diverse. Gingrich and Giuliani and Ridge and Bolton and Zelikow and Freeh and Porter Goss and Jim Woolsey and one of Romney’s foreign policy advisers aren’t much of a surprise: it’s just a meeting of the Neocon Club. And I don’t expect much of Howard Dean or Bill Richardson. But Bill Bradley? Wesley Clark? Lee Hamilton?!

Apparently the MEK has made itself enough of a thorn in the side of the Iraqi government – by refusing to have its people resettled from the group’s Iraqi base – that the State Department has offered to take them off the terrorist list if they’ll just play nice. If that happens, all the shills will presumably claim vindication. But taking money from foreigners to influence U.S. foreign policy is against the law, even when the foreigners aren’t as nasty as the MEK. This is just the Ahmad Chalabi story all over again. At least three lobbying outfits, including DeGenova & Toensing and Akin, Gump, are known to be involved.

And of course Citizens United compounds the problem: a politician who holds out against a group like MEK could find himself on the wrong side of millions of dollars of attack ads funded by anonymous donors. I wonder how much MEK front money has found itself into campaign warchests and super-PACs?

Here’s the full list, per the Huffington Post. (Titles at the link.)

Evan Bayh
John Bolton
Bill Bradley
Andrew Card
Wesley Clark
James Conway
Dell Dailey
Howard Dean
Paula Dobriansky
Louis Freeh
Rudolph Giuliani
Porter Goss
Lee Hamilton
Michael Hayden
James Jones
Patrick Kennedy
Anita McBride
Michael Mukasey
Richard Myers
Peter Pace
Dana Perino
Mitchell Reiss
Ed Rendell
Bill Richardson
Sarah Sewall
Tom Ridge
Hugh Shelton
Robert Torricelli
Frances Townsend
Togo West
James Woolsey
Philip Zelikow
Anthony Zinni

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

7 thoughts on “The best that money can buy”

  1. After looking over the list, I have to wonder whether your analysis is correct. After all, 33 very serious people can’t be wrong.

    1. 33 very serious people could surely be wrong. But seeing Bill Bradley on the list makes me think maybe this situation is MUCH more complicated than it is portrayed here.

      1. Really? You still take Bill Bradley seriously? He was an unusually accomplished senator at some point, some decades ago, but after he seemed to take his 2000 primary loss extremely hard, his (fairly rare) appearances in public life have tended not to impress. He appears to have at some point become convinced of his own virtue to an excessive degree. He seems to have fallen into Cranky Old Man mode, and does things that are poorly thought out but flatter his ego – things like being the highly-paid featured speaker at a portentously titled MEK event.

        Also, don’t forget that the whole point of paying these luminaries to show up is to gain legitimacy; once a lesser luminary has blessed your event with their presence, the next, brighter luminary invited will assume it’s an uncontroversial and unproblematic organization, and is more likely to accept an invitation. See also the Templeton Foundation.

        1. What I take seriously, Warren, is Bradley’s (a) intelligence and (b) integrity.

          The fact that he has gotten cranky, disillusioned with politics, and/or whatever else rubs you the wrong way does not in any way diminish my opinion of (a) and (b).

  2. Does anyone know the source of the money they use to buy influence and keep these camps in Iraq running? Can’t be cheap to but Washington lobbyists or to keep a large installation running in Iraq.

    1. I doubt anyone knows, other than the MEK’s funders. But (as a purely rhetorical question) how many billions were left unaccounted for in Iraq? A billion is a lot (25,000) of speaking gigs at $40K each.

      1. I doubt think the missing billions are so much “unaccounted for” as, shall we say, privately accounted for to Americans and Iraqis. But these MEK people were never well connected with the Iraqi government/insiders or even the Americans so I can’t see why they’d have wound up with any of the money being wasted in Iraq since they didn’t control any “projects” to be “built” and therefore couldn’t pay or receive the kickback or whatever that characterized those slush funds. If that’s true, then the money most have come from somebody—the US, Israel (which would be washing US money to do this) or the Iranian exile community (which might also be spending out money in preference to their own). Technically, if it’s American money funding a group that is on the terrorist list and carries out terrorism against Iran that should be a big deal. (Although probably not to anybody except Glenn Grenwald)

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