Rep. Burton's Long History Of Questionable Fundraising

July 20, 2011 10:14 am ET — Jamison Foser

So, it seems Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) has taken thousands of dollars from an alleged Pakistani agent. That kind of revelation is usually shocking, but nobody who has followed Burton's career can be surprised. This is just the latest in a long line of fascinating Burton fundraising stories, a recurring theme of which is Burton's penchant for taking (generally legal) contributions from people with highly questionable foreign policy goals — then acting in highly questionable ways on their behalf.

In the late 1980s, Burton participated in programs held by the International Freedom Foundation, for which at least two of his donors worked; IFF was funded by South Africa's apartheid government, which used the group to increase support for apartheid and discredit Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. Burton opposed sanctions against South Africa and criticized the ANC. Newsday reported in 1995:

The International Freedom Foundation, founded in 1986 seemingly as a conservative think tank, was in fact part of an elaborate intelligence gathering operation, and was designed to be an instrument for "political warfare" against apartheid's foes, according to former senior South African spy Craig Williamson. The South Africans spent up to $ 1.5 million a year through 1992 to underwrite "Operation Babushka," as the IFF project was known. [...]

Rep. Dan Burton, who was the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee on Africa, and Rep. Robert Dornan were active in IFF projects, frequently serving on its delegations to international forums. Alan Keyes, currently a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, also served as adviser. (He did not return a call seeking comment.) The Washington lobbyist and former movie producer Jack Abramoff, and rising conservative stars like Duncan Sellars, helped run the foundation. [...]

Burton was nearly hysterical in arguing against sanctions that a large bipartisan majority passed in 1986 over President Ronald Reagan's veto, at one point warning that "there will be blood running in the streets" as a result. 

In the mid-1990s, Burton tried to help Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko get a visa after taking thousands of dollars from Mobutu's lobbyist. By that time, Mobutu's thuggish rule had included ordering a massacre of college students in an effort to quash a pro-democracy movement. Burton's advocacy for Mobutu came after he had been "entertained at the dictator's palace in 1989," according to a May 14, 1997, article published in The Hill, which added:

The key figure in Burton's links to the Mobutu regime is Edward J. van Kloberg III, a controversial Washington lobbyist and longtime associate of Burton. Van Kloberg was once described by the the New Republic as the "lobbyist for the damned." His client list has included some of the world's most notorious dictators, including Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Liberia's Samuel Doe, Romania's Nicolae Ceaucescu and, more recently, President Mobutu.

In the 1989-90 election cycle, van Kloberg paid $2,500 in three installments to Burton's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. The legal limit is $2,000. In response to inquiries from The Hill, Burton announced late Tuesday that he would return $500.

Also, van Kloberg paid Burton honoraria totaling $4,000 in 1990. [...]

Burton has long been a favorite of Mobutu, judging by the contributions from Mobutu's associates in this country. Van Kloberg gave $4,500 to Burton's campaign from 1989 to 1994, and Mobutu's close friend Mamadi Diane, the head of a company that won lucrative contracts with Zaire's state-run mining operations, and his relatives have given $8,000 to Burton since 1991.

Another way in which Burton helped Mobutu: His foreign policy aide helped draft a speech for Mobutu, in consultation with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Burton then cited the speech in his request that the State Department give Mobutu a visa.

Also in the 1990s, Burton took thousands of dollars from donors with business interests in Turkey, then defended Turkey against allegations of human rights violations against the Kurds — using language borrowed from a Turkish government official.

In 1996, Burton accused the Indian government of recruiting a candidate to run against him, according to a April 23, 1997, report in The Hill, and used that allegation to raise money from anti-India donors:

The fundraising letter from Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) to Kashmiri- Americans during his 1996 reelection campaign carried a sense of profound urgency.

The Indian government was "pulling out all the stops to cover up their crimes against the Kashmiri people and keep U.S. aid to India flowing. ... They even recruited an Indian-American to run against me in my district."

The truth of the letter was disputed, Burton's Indian-American opponent, Nag Nagarajan, later considered a libel suit , but its effectiveness was not. Contributions poured in from Kashmiri Americans to Burton's reelection campaign as more than $51,000 in donations filled his coffers from Kashmiris, Sikhs and Pakistanis who supported his anti-India positions. [...]

The contributions from these communities highlight Burton's high-risk strategy in recent years to concentrate on raising funds from Americans who boost narrow foreign policy interests, including several militant causes.

The majority of his money in the last election cycle came from appealing to American citizens or legal residents who supported his hardline views on Cuba, Serbia, India, Turkey, Nicaragua, Taiwan or, closer to home, Puerto Rico. Several contributors are current or former officials of foreign governments, and many more represent foreign business interests. [...]

The foreign complexion of Burton's contributions is of no legal consequence. Except for two improper contributions he received from Sikh temples and possibly a few more that he raised through a Sikh religious charitable institution, the donations appear perfectly legal because they come from citizens or green-card holders. [...]

Many of Burton's foreign policy positions fit an underdog theme. "The one thing he has always said is he had no tolerance for bullies and no tolerance for men who pick on women and children," said Williams, his spokesman. "And that has driven him since he was in the state house in Indiana."

An exception to that might be Turkey. In contrast to his support of minority populations in India, he has sided with the government in its brutal crackdown against insurgent Kurds. "When you have military conflicts you're bound to have unfortunate things happen," he was quoted by the Turkish Daily News. "People get killed, they're bombed and shot. These things happen."

And in 1998, Burton took $1,000 from a donor The Hill described as "an Iranian swindler, felon, arms dealer and one-time coup plotter." 

Oh, yeah, the punchline: This is the guy Republicans put in charge of conducting a campaign finance investigation of Bill Clinton in the late-1990s.

Print