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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Tortured ‘Terror Ties’ in West Virginia

In a TV ad based on innuendos and half-truths, a GOP challenger accuses his Lebanese American opponent, Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, of taking campaign cash from “a convicted terrorist” and “a group with terror ties.”

Rahall is a Presbyterian whose grandparents immigrated from Lebanon. The ad by his Republican opponent, Spike Maynard, first aired Oct. 20 in West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District. It also claims Rahall is "bad for America," attempting to tie Rahall to terrorism using the classic guilt-by-association fallacy. We also find factual weaknesses:

  • There is no evidence that the Arab American Leadership Council, whose political action committee donated to Rahall, has any "terror ties," as the ad claims.
  • As for the $500 he received from "convicted terrorist" Abdurahman Alamoudi — that was years before the conviction, and Rahall long ago gave the money to charity. Furthermore, Alamoudi also gave political donations to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee, among many others.

Tortured ‘Terror Ties’

The ad starts by saying there are "five things you deserve to know about Nick Rahall." Two of them are standard campaign fare: Rahall was an early supporter of President Barack Obama during the presidential campaign, and he voted for the president’s health care plan — which the ad calls "Obamacare." Fair enough.

It’s the other three claims that make this ad one of the harshest this campaign season.

The ad claims that Rahall has taken "campaign cash from a group with terror ties." It cites a blog item posted on a website called West Virginia Watchdog, which wrote that the Arab American Leadership Council Political Action Committee donated to Rahall. That part is true. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending, reports that Rahall has received $18,750 since 1998 from that group.

But then the West Virginia Watchdog says without attribution that the Arab American group "has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood: the parent of both Hamas and Al-Qaeda, and a group affiliated with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)." There is no evidence of such "ties."

The Justice Department lists Hamas and al Qaeda, of course, as terrorist organizations. It also says that Hamas was "an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood." But what is the Arab American Leadership Council’s connection to the Muslim Brotherhood? The article doesn’t say, so we called the author, Steven Allen Adams. We told him we were having a hard time following the logic, because his article did not support the claim that the Arab American Leadership Council "has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood."

After re-reading his item, Adams said: "I’m not even following my own logic on it, which is a terrible thing to say. I must have gotten it from my research, but I didn’t put it in the story."

Adams said he believes he learned of the tie between the Arab American Leadership Council and the Muslim Brotherhood from a book called "Muslim Mafia." The controversial book, by Dave Gaubatz and Paul Sperry, uses internal documents in an attempt to expose the alleged hidden agenda of the Council for American-Islamic Relations. Its conservative publisher, WorldNetDaily Books, describes the book this way: "This trail of information reveals the insidious and well-funded efforts of the seditious Muslim Brotherhood under the nonprofit guise of CAIR to fully support the international jihad against the United States, with the goal of transforming American society from within."

We spoke briefly with Gaubatz. He said the Arab American Leadership Council and the Muslim Brotherhood are linked through CAIR’s executive director, Nihad Awad. He said there had been frequent communication and financial dealings between the two groups, but he was traveling and could not elaborate.

Even if this innuendo is true — and there is no evidence it is — it’s clear to us that the Maynard campaign is employing tortured logic to falsely link Rahall to terrorism. Instead of calling this ad "Five," the Maynard campaign could have called it "Six" — as in "Six Degrees of Separation."

‘Convicted Terrorist’ Ties

The ad goes on to say that Rahall took campaign contributions "from Alamoudi, now a convicted terrorist." But once again the facts tell a far less compelling story.

It is true that Rahall received a $500 contribution from Abdurahman Alamoudi 14 years ago: June 28, 1996, to be exact. That’s eight years before Alamoudi was sentenced to 23 years in jail for immigration fraud and engaging in illegal financial transactions with Libyans. (The Department of Justice called Alamoudi a "terrorist facilitator," not a terrorist — but that’s a mere quibble.)

The contribution to Rahall was one of at least 44 contributions that Alamoudi made from 1990 through 2003, totaling $22,300, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Alamoudi also gave George W. Bush $1,000 in 2000, and he contributed $300 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2002. The New York Times reported — and records confirm — that Bush returned the money that year after Alamoudi was "quoted in interviews as supporting the radical Islamic group Hamas."

Derek Scarbro, executive director of the West Virginia Democratic Party, was quoted in the Charleston Gazette as saying Rahall donated the $500 he received from Alamoudi in 2003. The campaign confirmed the donation, but did not provide us with proof.

Maynard could criticize Rahall for being slow to distance himself from Alamoudi, but he doesn’t. Instead, he uses a $500 donation from 14 years ago to build a weak case that Rahall is "bad for America."

Family Ties

The third thing that you ought to know about Rahall, the ad claims, is that he "helped Qatar while his sister was a registered foreign agent." This is true.

The ad cites a recent Politico article on the lobbying activities of Rahall’s sister and her contact with Rahall’s office based on public records. Tanya Rahall registered in 2002 as a foreign agent on behalf of the Qatari Embassy in the United States and received a salary of $15,000 per month, federal records show. She lobbied for the Qatari government until January 2006 and had "numerous interactions with Nick Rahall and his staff" to discuss her clients’ issues, Politico reported.

During that time, Politico said that Tanya Rahall helped start the Congressional Caucus on Qatari-American Economic Strategic Defense, Cultural and Educational Partnership. Rahall became co-chairman of that caucus. In April 2003, he traveled to Doha, Qatar, to speak at the Third Qatar Conference on Democracy and Free Trade. A month later, the congressman cosponsored a resolution thanking the Qatari government for its support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and welcoming Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, to the United States. It was one of several "pro-Qatar resolutions" he sponsored, Politico said.

The Los Angeles Times did a similar piece on Rahall and his sister’s lobbying activities in 2004 that called the congressman "one of Qatar’s biggest champions in Washington." In a statement to the Times, Rahall said he and his sister had shared interests and there were times when "our paths cross professionally, but not across any lines appropriately established by law or House rules."

It is certainly fair game for the Maynard campaign to raise the issue of whether Rahall’s official actions helped his sister’s lobbying business. But that’s not what the ad does. The ad goes far beyond that by raising Tanya Rahall’s lobbying activities for a U.S. ally in the context of campaign contributions from "a group with terror ties" and a "convicted terrorist" to build a false narrative that Rahall is "good for the Middle East" and "bad for America."

— Eugene Kiely and Lauren Hitt, with Lara Seligman