By JAKE WIENS
As we noted Tuesday, the Department of Justice's (DOJ) new criminal complaint against Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai and Zaheer Ahmad for allegedly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is of particular interest to POGO. The case touches on the intersection of two issues POGO has been examining: foreign money in political campaigns and DOJ's enforcement of FARA.
The first issue was explored recently in a timely article in the Huffington Post. The article, by Dan Froomkin, examined how foreign money can find its way into U.S. campaigns. Citing POGO National Security Fellow Ben Freeman, the article noted that “There's pretty clear evidence that foreign money is being used, at least indirectly, to finance U.S. elections.”
DOJ’s highly detailed criminal complaint against Fai and Ahmad appears to illustrate how a foreign country—in this case Pakistan—can use sophisticated means to insert foreign money into the U.S. political process. The complaint alleges that a foundation run by Fai—the Kashmiri American Council (KAC)—was covertly directed and financed by the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence service.
Through a network of straw donors, Fai was able to covertly collect and disperse money from the ISI, some of which was used to help fund the campaigns of U.S. politicians, according to the complaint based on an FBI agent’s sworn testimony.
Federal Election Commission records show that Fai contributed more to Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) than to any other Member of Congress. However, DOJ noted that there is no evidence that any Member of Congress accepted donations with the knowledge that they originated from the ISI.
But a previous exchange between a lobbyist working for Pakistan and Representative Burton, as recounted in a 1997 article in The Washington Post, illustrates the blurred relationship between lawful and unlawful donations from lobbyists working for foreign governments.