When Sen. Lindsey
Graham (Republican-South Carolina) blocked the Senate vote on the Armenian
Genocide Resolution on November 13, 2019, there was widespread speculation as
to what motivated him to do so. The reasons ranged from his meeting with
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the White House shortly before his
vote, to his flip-flopping on several other issues, and to succumbing to Pres.
Trump’s pro-Turkish policies.
Another good reason to
explain Sen. Graham’s vote against the Armenian Genocide Resolution is the
money he had received from Turkish-Americans for his political campaigns.
Ian J. Lynch wrote an
article in the Ahwalnews.com website documenting the Turkish donations to Sen.
Graham’s campaigns. These amounts are in addition to the millions of dollars
that the Turkish government pays to American lobbying firms in Washington,
D.C., to undermine the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in
Congress. On October 11, 2019, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, was added to
the long list of American companies lobbying for Turkey. Interestingly, this
lobbying firm was hired by TransAtlantic Petroleum, a Texas company with oil
and gas interests in Turkey. Akin Gump is supposed to lobby to block the
implementation of sanctions against Turkey, a bill that was overwhelmingly
adopted by the House of Representatives on October 29, 2019.
Lynch reported that
the Armenian government spent no money on lobbying in the United States and the
Armenian-American organizations in Washington, D.C. spent very little on
lobbying compared to the millions of dollars spent by the Turkish government.
“According to the most recent IRS returns, the AAA [Armenian Assembly of
America] raised nearly $2 million in 2017, however, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit
group it is not permitted to spend a substantial amount of its budget on
lobbying. According to disclosures required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act
(LDA), the AAA spent $95,000 on lobbying activities in 2018 and $80,000 so far
in 2019. The ANCA [Armenian National Committee of America] is registered as a
501(c)(4) non-profit, meaning it can spend the majority of its budget on
lobbying. Its total revenue in 2017 was nearly $850,000, but the organization
only spent $120,000 on lobbying in each of the past two years, according to LDA
After the US House of
Representatives adopted the Armenian Genocide Resolution on October 29, 2019,
the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC) went into action to
stop the passage of the counterpart of the House bill in the Senate.
According to Lynch,
“TASC’s leadership and their associates have direct connections to Erdogan’s
inner circle and a recent history of making individual political contributions
to Graham…. TASC’s co-chairman, Dr. Halil Mutlu, is a cousin of Erdogan. He and
his wife donated a total of $10,800 to Team Graham Inc., the senator’s
re-election campaign for Senate in 2020, on Aug. 8, 2016. Their individual
contributions of $5,400 each are the maximum an individual can give to a
political campaign in the U.S. per election cycle. Mutlu’s employer, Baystate
Medical Center in Massachusetts, is one of Team Graham’s biggest sources of
donations. In the current election cycle, the hospital’s employees have
contributed $21,600 to the senator’s 2020 campaign.”
The employees of
another Turkish-linked company, Nimeks Organics, are among the top donors to
Sen. Graham’s campaign, providing a total of $16,200 in individual donations
during this election cycle. “Nimeks is a product line of Natural Foods Group
based in Pennsylvania, which imports food products from Turkey. The company’s
CEO, Murat Guzel, is also the treasurer of TASC,” according to Lynch.
In addition, the Guzel
family donated a total of $8,100 to Graham’s presidential campaign on June 28,
2016, “despite the fact that Graham had dropped out of that race the previous
December. The donation came shortly after the coup attempt in Turkey,” Lynch
reported. “Just weeks later, Guzel and his family donated a further $10,800 to
Team Graham, one day before the Mutlu family donated the same sum on Aug. 8. Neither
the Mutlus nor Guzels are constituents of Graham, who represents South
Strangely, Guzel was
donating to a Republican Senator at a time when “he was the chair of the
Democratic National Committee’s Heritage Council and contributed nearly $300,000
to democratic committees supporting Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign,”
according to Lynch. Guzel must have had a strong reason for heading one
political party’s committee while donating to its opponent.
Guzel maintained close
contact with Berat Albayrak, Pres. Erdogan’s son-in-law and Treasury and
Finance Minister, Bilal Erdogan, the president’s son, and Ibrahim Kalin, the
President’s spokesman. From time to time, Guzel “asks Turkish officials for
help coordinating his political activities,” which was made public after
Albayrak’s emails were hacked, according to Lynch.
It is not surprising
that the FBI investigated TASC officials. “In a Sept. 8, 2016 email, Ibrahim
Uyar, a co-founder of TASC, told Albayrak that the FBI questioned him about
whether TASC and other Turkish organizations were involved in efforts to
intervene in American politics on the Turkish government’s behalf. Uyar also
indicated several others were questioned including Guzel and Halil Danısmaz,
the founding president of the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO).” In emails
to Albayrak years earlier, Danısmaz once proposed a “camouflaged” lobbying
campaign to overcome “funding regulations and tax barriers that limit lobbying
activities in the U.S.” When the emails were released, Danısmaz resigned from
THO, Lynch reported.
The Turkish Coalition
Northeast PAC also contributed to Sen. Graham’s campaign. In April of this
year, it gave its maximum allowable donation of $5,000 to Team Graham, “its
largest gift to a candidate committee in the current election cycle,” Lynch
After Sen. Graham made
supportive remarks about Turkey at a conference in Munich, Team Graham received
a $1,000 donation from the US lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP, which is
hired by Turkey.
Sen. Graham met with
Greenberg Traurig lobbyists on January 10, 2019, a week before he visited
Turkey to meet with Pres. Erdogan. While in Turkey, Erdogan invited Sen. Graham
to attend a concert with him, which Graham described as “one of the best
experiences” of his life.
Lynch concluded his
report by asserting: “What is clear is that the close-knit network of Turkish
organizations and political action committees in the United States with ties to
the Erdogan family think Graham is worthy of the investment of their time and
We do not know the
result of the 2016 FBI investigation of TASC and other Turkish American
organizations, however, there seems to be sufficient ground to look into their
possible violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, as unregistered
lobbyists for a foreign government!