April 21, 2004
Saddam's American Beneficiaries

As reported by ABC News and others, the American recipients of Saddam's "Oil for Food" bribes were:

Samir Vincent: 7 million
Shakir Alkhalaji [sic]: 10.5 million
(Most other reports spell the second name "Al-Khafaji").

The Seattle Times reported on Saturday that Al-Khafaji had made a (now returned) donation of $5,000 to Congressman Jim McDermott's legal defense fund and also gave an unspecified amount of money to the "charity" that paid for McDermott's 2002 trip to Baghdad.

This led me to wonder what other American politicians might have benefited from laundered "Oil for Food" bribes.

According to the Center for Responsive politics, Samir Vincent gave $1,000 in 2000 to then Republican Congressman Tom Campbell for his unsuccessful challenge against California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Shakir Al-Khafaji was more generous to political candidates:

Michigan's David Bonior, at the time the second ranking Democrat in the House, received $2,500 between 1998 and 2000. Bonior accompanied McDermott to Baghdad in 2002.

Then Senator, now Energy Secretary, Spencer Abraham received $250 in 1999

Detroit Democrat John Conyers received $1,000 in 1999. (Conyers introduced a bill in the House to end economic sanctions against Iraq in March 2000)

Michigan Republican Joe Knollenberg received $1,000 in 1998.

The Arab American PAC received $500 in 2002, while James Zogby's Arab American Leadership Council PAC received $5,000 in 2000.

The latter's top recipients in 2000 and 2002 included Democrat Congressmen Bonior, Conyers, Dingell, McKinney, Rahall and Moran and Republicans Stephen, Sununu and Issa. The former PAC's sole recipients in 2002 were: Bonior and Dingell.

Of course, this only accounts for a tiny portion of the "Oil for Food" money, that which is properly disclosed in federal FEC filings. Donations to state and local candidates, charitable organizations, activist groups and candidate's "legal defense" and other off-the-radar slush funds are harder to uncover, but I'll keep digging.

I haven't seen any indications that any of the aforementioned recipients actually knew that Vincent and Al-Khafaji were on Saddam's payroll. But it would be a good thing if they followed McDermott's example and returned their share of Saddam's bribes. In fact, they could do McDermott one better and return the money to the Iraqi people.

UPDATE: I've contacted the offices of Congressmen Conyers and Knollenberg, the Arab American Leadership Council PAC, the Arab American PAC, and former Congressmen Bonior and Campbell, asking for a comment on these contributions and wondering whether they would return the money to the Iraqi treasury. The individuals I reached said they were not aware of the specific contributions and would research and get back to me. I'll report any responses.

UPDATE 2: David Bonior pulls into the lead as the #1 American beneficiary of Saddamite largesse. Alkhafaji also gave Bonior $3,400 for his 2002 gubernatorial bid, as well as a $150 contribution in 1999 to now Governor Jennifer Granholm's 1998 A.G. campaign. $150 is not a lot of money, but the timing is interesting. (query at Michigan Sec. of State database)

UPDATE 3: Former Congressman Tom Campbell response is here

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at April 21, 2004 12:02 PM

Well the $ amounts are peanuts, but become irrelevant when crossed referenced with one's open vocal opposition to American interests in the region, both before and after the very successful mission accomplished to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Hello Mr. Conyers. Hello Mr. Bonior. Hello James (bigot?) Zogby.

Posted by: Darn Toot'n on April 22, 2004 05:52 AM

Good grief if that many American politicians benefitted consider the number of French, Russian, Turkish, Syrian, and who knows who else.

Oops, forgot U.N. staff and management.

Posted by: Steve on April 22, 2004 06:29 AM

I am from McDermott's district. He didn't do it for the donation. He would have done everything he has done without any donations whatsoever. He isn't corrupt (in this case), just horribly wrong.


Posted by: MG on April 22, 2004 06:32 AM

Spencer Abraham, Darrell Issa, and John Sununu are Arab in heritage. (Bob Smith brought up this issue in the NH Senate campaign, Abraham is I think the first Arab Cabinet member, and Darrell Issa is of Lebanese Christian descent.) I would assume that those donations are at least partially from simple tribal/racial loyalties... which isn't necessarily anything wrong on the face of it, though the money is obviously tainted because of its source.

It's very unsurprising that Arab-Americans would throw a few bucks in the direction of the few Arab members of Congress.

Posted by: John Thacker on April 22, 2004 07:23 AM

This doesn't have to mean anything. It's just as likely (like MG said) that all of these politicians had already formed their opinions on the matters or had made whatever relevant votes made them seems appealing to the donors who then contributed simply because it seemed like their interests lined up. That's par the course for political contributions.

My eyebrows wouldn't raise over this sort of thing until we started seeing some really big numbers like so many international figures recieved (like in the millions). The fact that they recieved that money would be illegal by itself as a violation of campaign finance laws, of course, but more importantly, it would also point to more nefarious collusion.

Posted by: Russell on April 22, 2004 07:40 AM

It's also worth noting that the state of Michigan and the Detroit area specifically have enormous populations of Middle Easterners, so again, there is some reasonability to these donations above and beyond influence purchases. Indeed, the constituencies of these Michigan members of congress also make it likely they would support causes favored by Middle Easterners, such as the lifting of sanctions.

Frankly, I think that if one looks at the political contribution business, there will always be unseemly things like this - all the more reason there needs to be some form of public campaign finance. Until politicians can stop going hat in hand to their backers, these backers will always want that unspoken quid pro quo.

Posted by: Jeff Ray on April 22, 2004 07:40 AM

"all the more reason there needs to be some form of public campaign finance"

YOWP! Here our local media and a big slug of the US population fawn all over the UN because it's such a worthy ethical organization. Yet when it got to doling out dollars-for-palaces, bazillions were grafted and corrupted to those worthies IN THE UN among other influential places.

What in hell would make anyone think that publicly doling out money to political competitors would not be just begging for a similar sort of corruption to become endemic?

Restore the First Amendment, and get the government out of political campaigns altogether. Just insist on immediate full disclosure of the funding sources.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive on April 22, 2004 10:22 AM

I agree that the amount of money in question is not huge, given the vast scope of the Oil for Food scandal. One question is, now that this information is publicly known, what statement do the recipients of the tainted funds want to make?

The other question is: what else did Samir Vincent and Shakir Alkhafaji do with their millions of bribe money, and what other influence did it buy?

Posted by: Stefan Sharkansky on April 22, 2004 10:25 AM

I would like to, just once, hear a politician say, "Yes, I received a contribution from [Hussein, the KKK, PETA/ELF, whoever], and I have no plans to return it. That would allow them to use the money elsewhere in a cause I despise. Instead, I pledge to make them rue the day they signed that check."

Money is fungible. The idea that there is some sort of psychic taint associated with a funding source is the rankest sort of superstition. The issue is not where the money comes from, but what it is used to do. Baghdad Jim McDermott's trip would have been just as despicable if he had never received a dime from enemies of the US.

I don't care whether someone is paid to betray or betrays from his honestly held belief. Mercenary treason is neither more nor less disgraceful than pro-bono treason.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on April 22, 2004 03:13 PM

I'm always amazed that so many can be corrupted (sometimes bought) for so little.
I mean most of these are small potatoes (i.e. $250, 500, $5000), at least as compared to an Enron or WorldCom. You would think at least 5 figures, maybe 6 figures, would be the minimum to sell your soul.

Posted by: J_Crater on April 22, 2004 03:34 PM

Not to worry. The UN is hot on the case, and anyone guily of taking money illegally will be persecuted to the full extent of the law. And pigs will fly.

Posted by: Jed on April 23, 2004 08:43 AM

Tom Campbell is a great American who did yeoman work in the State Senate between his two stints in Congress, writing and carrying SB 509, the bill that ultimately reformed an overly-generous entitlement. In its own way, this measure was as signficant as the Gingrich welfare reform.

I wish he would run for office again so I could give him money.

Posted by: Richard Bennett on April 26, 2004 02:45 PM
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