June 20, 2017
An institute that launched with $9 million in unspent funds from Sen. John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign has been likened to the Clinton Global Initiative and linked to billionaire leftist George Soros.
The McCain Institute for International Leadership, intended to serve as a “legacy” for McCain, says it is “dedicated to advancing human rights, dignity, democracy and freedom.”
Critics from the left and right believe the institute “constitutes a major conflict of interest for McCain,” chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, according to a report by the Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group.
The organization’s exclusive “Sedona Forum” bears “an uncanny resemblance to the glitzy Clinton Global Initiative that annually co-mingled special interests and powerful political players in alleged pay-to-play schemes,” the Daily Caller report said.
The institute accepted a $100,000 contribution from Soros.
“McCain and Soros reportedly became friends after the senator was exposed as a member of the ‘Keating Five’ during the savings and loan (S&L) industry scandal during former President George H.W. Bush’s administration,” according to the report.” As the S&L bank chairman, Charles Keating paid $1.3 million to bribe five members of Congress to interfere with government regulators on behalf of the savings bank.”
The experience “so scarred McCain that he became a vigorous advocate of campaign finance reform” and in the process reportedly became friends with Soros, the report said.
The institute also accepted a $100,000 contribution from Teneo, a for-profit company co-founded by Doug Band, former President Bill Clinton’s “bag man.”
“Teneo has long helped enrich Clinton through lucrative speaking and business deals,” the Daily Caller report said.
Bloomberg reported in 2016 on a $1 million Saudi Arabian donation to the institute, a contribution the McCain group has refused to explain publicly.
In addition, the institute has taken at least $100,000 from a Moroccan state-run company tied to repeated charges of worker abuse and exploitation, the Daily Caller report said, adding that the group has also accepted at least $100,000 from the Pivotal Foundation, which was created by Francis Najafi who owns the Pivotal Group, a private equity and real estate firm.
The Pivotal Foundation has in the last three years given $205,000 to the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), which has been a vocal advocate for the Iranian nuclear deal the Obama administration negotiated.
NIAC President Trita Parsi has long been an advocate for Iran, including demanding in May 2017 that President Donald Trump and officials in his administration “cease questioning the integrity of a (nuclear) deal.”
The NIAC is “Iran’s lobbyists in Washington,” said Aresh Salih, the Washington representative of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. “People inside of Iran know them as their lobbyists in Washington, D.C.,” Salih told the Daily Caller.
The NIAC does not file as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, nor does it register as a lobbyist with Congress.
Yet in May 2013, the Daily Caller noted, Parsi “spoke to a packed Capitol Hill meeting sponsored by Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison to argue in favor of the nuclear deal.”
“This is a very real conflict of interest,” Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, told the Daily Caller. “This is the similar type of pattern we received with the Clinton Foundation in which foreign governments and foreign interests were throwing a lot of money in the hopes of trying to buy influence.”
McCain recently claimed no involvement with the institute, saying “I’m proud that the institute is named after me, but I have nothing to do with it.”
Lawrence Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, told the Daily Caller that accepting contributions in the name of a sitting senator like McCain raises troubling issues.
“In terms of the ethics of it, it does raise a broad question of people trying to get good will with the elected official,” he said. “From a personal standpoint, I’d rather not see these entities exist.”
Charles Ortel, a retired Wall Street investment banker and philanthropy law expert, told the Daily Caller that “high government officials such as John McCain, [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama should not get involved with vehicles like these where substantial sums can be funneled over time in ways that at best, reeks of impropriety and at worse are public corruption.”