U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., is a fairly entrenched incumbent in a district drawn favorably for his party.
That fact has helped Ellison raise more than $650,000 in his bid for a third term in Congress. That amount includes $173,000 in political action committee contributions from interests ranging from organized labor to health insurers and trial lawyers.
As the first Muslim elected to Congress, Ellison also enjoys strong support from individual Muslim Americans throughout the country, campaign finance records show.
That's understandable. Tucked in among those contributions, however, are a handful of donors with a history of Muslim Brotherhood connections. For example, Ellison accepted $950 in contributions from Jamal Barzinji and another $1,000 from Hisham Al-Talib. And in late March, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has learned, Ellison attended a private fundraiser at the northern Virginia home of a man who led a group tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Barzinji and Al-Talib have served as vice presidents at the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a Northern Virginia think tank federal authorities suspect was part of a terrorist financing network
. In addition, a previous FBI investigation concluded that Barzinji and Al-Talib were among U.S. leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood when they came here as students.
The Brotherhood, which also is called the Ikhwan, is an Egyptian-based religious/political movement that seeks to establish Islamic law as "the basis controlling the affairs of state and society." Documents from an FBI investigation from the late 1980s
show Barzinji included among "members and leaders of the IKHWAN." He was the secretary general for the Islamic Society of North America at that time.
Muslim Brotherhood members in the United States founded that society, records from that FBI probe and other investigations show.
Investigative records and trial exhibits
also show that the organization’s donors, Barzinji and Al-Talib, have been involved in and have helped finance criminal organizations, including the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and a think tank that served as refuge for at least four members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's governing board during the early 1990s.
The Islamic thought institute was part of a network of Islamic companies and charities long suspected of financing terrorism. It was a principal financier of the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a think tank run by Palestinian Islamic Jihad board member Sami Al-Arian. Fellow jihad board members Basheer Nafi and current Secretary General Ramadan Shallah worked at the enterprise’s think tank in the early 1990s through visas Al-Arian helped secure.
In 1992, Islamic thought institute President Taha Jabir Al-Awani wrote to Al-Arian, saying he considers Al-Arian's think tank "an extension" of thought institute.
"When we make a commitment to you or try to offer," Al-Awani wrote, "we do it for you as a group, regardless of the party or the façade you use the donation for."
According to an affidavit filed in connection with a 2002 search of the institute and related companies, the letter noted that others at the institute, including Barzinji and Al-Talib, shared his assessment.
Ellison also received $1,000 from Esam Omeish, former president of the Muslim American Society, another group Muslim Brotherhood members in the United States founded. The society’s Minnesota chapter paid Ellison's travel expenses for a 2008 pilgrimage to Mecca.
During a 2000 rally, Omeish praised Palestinians for "choosing the jihad way" to liberation.
Other donors include Turkish Islamist Merve Kavakci, and Asad Zaman, principal of the Muslim American Society-run Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in a Minneapolis suburb, and Aly Abuzaakouk, former executive director of the American Muslim Council and a former Islamic thought institute publications director.
He also received money from two men who were officers in the American Muslim Council. Its founder and longtime executive director, Abdurrahman Alamoudi, pleaded guilty to illegal transactions
with Libya that included a plot to kill a Saudi crown prince. Alamoudi was a Muslim Brotherhood member.
Former Muslim council President Mohammed Cheema has given Ellison $1,250 for the 2010 election. When President Bill Clinton invited novelist Salman Rushdie to the White House in 1993, Cheema wrote to the President saying the move showed "a disregard for the feelings of 7 million American Muslims." At the time, Rushdie faced a fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini for his novel, "The Satanic Verses."
Ellison's campaign finance reports are surprisingly devoid of donations from executives at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), although this doesn't mean CAIR won't help him raise money. Executive Director Nihad Awad helped organize, and spoke at an intimate March fundraiser for Ellison at Omeish's Virginia home.
It isn't clear why Awad would play such a supportive role, yet not be listed as a donor to Ellison's campaign. Of all the Islamist groups mentioned, CAIR may be the most politically risky today.
Ellison remains close to CAIR nonetheless. He spoke at three CAIR fundraising dinners last year and took to the House floor to defend the organization after another member made critical statements about the group.
Last fall, Ellison berated a Muslim critic of Islamist organizations. Rather than taking on specific criticisms from American Islamic Forum for Democracy founder Zuhdi Jasser, Ellison accused him of fomenting bigotry against his own people.
"I think people who want to engage in nothing less than Muslim-hating really love you a lot because you give them freedom to do that. You say, 'Yeah, go get after them.'"
Politicians of all stripes deny being influenced by those who contribute to their campaigns. Contributors, they often say, want nothing more than good government and expect nothing in exchange for their money. Perhaps. But during Ellison’s two terms, he has demonstrated repeated support for Islamist organizations and their issues, even serving as an attack dog against an anti-Islamist Muslim who advocates for the separation between mosque and state.
These contributions are a small slice of Ellison's campaign war chest and hardly constitute the difference between a third term or defeat. By seeking them out, the congressman makes clear that he sees himself not as a representative of all American Muslims. Just like-minded Islamists.
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