Would former icons of the civil rights movement sell out their principles for foreign cash?
A February 13 New York Times article exposed the degree to which the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), a group composed of African Americans in the U.S. House of Representatives, used loopholes in political finance laws to raise $55 million in unregulated corporate money through a network of nonprofits from 2004 to 2008. The money in question is principally channeled through the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and is ostensibly to be used for scholarships for disadvantaged African American students. However, the analysis of reporters Eric Lipton and Eric Lichtbau demonstrates that the majority of the funds have actually been used for junkets, parties, golf outings and boondoggles; as well as the retirement of the mortgage for a headquarters building on Embassy Row. In regards to the paid off headquarters building of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), Lipton and Lichtbau write:
…in 2008, a jazz band was playing at what amounted to a mortgage-burning party for the $4 million town house.
Curiously, the authors do not mention where exactly this little jazz celebration took place. One might assume it was held in the CBC’s own building, or in the Mississippi Casino Resort that is mentioned further down in the article. Luckily, the reader only has to go to the CBCF’s own website to find where the party took place in April, 2008:
CBCF celebrated the acquisition of its building at the historic residence of the Turkish Ambassador on Embassy Row.
To most casual observers, the Turkish Embassy would seem an odd place for a foundation run by a group of African American legislators to hold a celebration of such historic measure. It turns out, however, that there is some connection between the two communities. One famous Turkish-American, Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, had a great appreciation for jazz and helped to promote the growth of black music in the United States. However, reporting last year from Washington D.C., freelance reporter Joshua Kucera suggested something a little deeper might be going on between the Turkish lobbyists and CBC members than a simple shared love for soul music:
Turkish lobbying groups have specifically targeted black members of Congress. Twelve members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also in the Turkish Caucus, according to Lydia Borland.
Ankara’s lobby in the U.S., which now seems to be principally coordinated through the Turkish Coalition USA PAC and the American Turkish Council, seems to have been successful in getting several black members of Congress, all Democrats, on board as members of the 72 member Congressional Turkish Caucus. Turkey’s representatives in the U.S. have recruited a total of 12 African American members, comprising more than 25% of the Congressional Black Caucus. The list includes a well-known name from the civil rights movement, John Lewis of Georgia as well as the son of a civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois. This is quite a large percentage of African American Congresspersons that Ms. Borland and her associates have recruited. One might brush the 25% statistic off, were it not for an inherent contradiction in their association with the Congressional Turkish Caucus: some of these African Americans in Congress, including Mr. Lewis, are staunch opponents of the genocide in Darfur. Yet, hypocritically, they have tied themselves with a Turkish regime that is not exactly known as the world leader on civil rights and which, furthermore, refuses to acknowledge the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
Turkey is a wonderful country, with a rich history and culture, but the Turkish denial of the 1915 Armenian Genocide is just one of many black stains on its government’s human rights record. In Turkey, writers and activists face jail or risk assassination by death squads (as occurred in the case of Hrant Dink) for openly discussing the Genocide. In the United States, Turkey has little power to unleash its police force, but has instead built formidable lobbying power to fight tooth and nail against Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Sibel Edmonds, the proprietor of this journal, has even come across evidence that Turkish interests (not only at governmental levels) have gone so far as to bribe members of the U.S. Congress in order to prevent any vote on the matter from coming to the House Floor (The former Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, is alleged to have pulled a Resolution in 2000, even though a key Congressional seat in a district in California with a large Armenian community hung in the balance.)
It should be said that the average Turkish citizen, facing the repression of the Turkish police and military apparatus, may have much in common with the African American community in the United States, but the oppressed masses of Turkey are not the kind of people the Turkish lobby represents.
While there is no evidence that anything illegal is going on between some members of the Black Caucus and the Turkish government, the CBC’s apparently less than ethical attitude towards taking excessive corporate donations and the Turkish predilection for skirting U.S. campaign finance laws to get its way in the halls of Congress does leave one to wonder: would former icons of the civil rights movement sell out their principles for foreign cash? One can only hope that this is not the case. However, given the corrosive influence of money on American political life, we should not take for granted that any Congressperson, black or white, is immune from the pressures of an aggressive and well-funded foreign lobby.