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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Perdue Distorts Nunn Campaign Memo

Republican David Perdue says in a TV ad that Michelle Nunn, his opponent in the Georgia Senate race, “admits she’s too liberal” and that “her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists.” Not exactly.

The ad cites the source as “her campaign plan,” but that particular memo — one of several included in a 144-page Nunn campaign document — talked about devising a strategy to push back against “potential Republican attacks” on Nunn. The likely attacks included that “Nunn is too liberal” and that a nonprofit organization that she headed, the Points of Light foundation, gave “grants to problematic entities.” Actually, the grants refer to $13,500 that eBay sellers — not the foundation — donated to the U.S. affiliate of the international charity Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Also, there is no evidence Islamic Relief USA, a federally approved charity, has ties to the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas.

Perdue and Nunn are competing for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss. The ad, called “Bringing Common Sense to Washington,” began airing on Sept. 9. It’s Perdue’s first ad of the general election.

On July 28, the National Review ran a story about a leaked Nunn campaign document that had been briefly published online, in draft form, months earlier. The document, covering all phases of Nunn’s Senate campaign, is a compilation of memos from Democratic strategists to Nunn and her senior advisers.

“From all appearances, the document was intended to remain confidential. It outlines the challenges inherent in getting Nunn, who grew up mostly in Bethesda, Md., elected to the Senate in a state with a large rural population,” the National Review article said.

The “Research Plan” portion of the document included an assignment for the Nunn campaign’s research team to “produce a ‘pushback’ document for each identified vulnerability in Michelle’s record, as well as common attacks frequently leveled against Democratic Senate candidates.” The vulnerabilities were identified by the research firm NewPartners, which performed a review of Nunn’s record for the campaign and “pointed out several areas of potential concern in her record,” according to the document.

According to the ad’s narrator, “In her campaign plan, Michelle Nunn admits she’s too liberal and her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists.” But the document doesn’t “admit” to that. The “pushback research” was meant to prepare “responses to potential Republican attacks.” It didn’t say those attacks would be accurate.

“Nunn is too liberal” and “Nunn is not a ‘real’ Georgian” were listed in the campaign document as potential attacks on her biography. And “grants to problematic entities” was listed as a potential attack on her work for Points of Light, the volunteer group founded by former President George H.W. Bush and for which she has served as chief executive officer and president since 2007. (Nunn is currently on a leave of absence to run for the U.S. Senate.)

After the National Review published its story, Nunn campaign manager Jeff DiSantis released a statement saying, “This was a draft of a document that was written eight months ago. Like all good plans, they change. But what hasn’t changed and is all the more clear today is that Michelle’s opponents are going to mischaracterize her work and her positions, and part of what we’ve always done is to prepare for the false things that are going to be said.”

In fact, the Perdue ad’s claim that Nunn’s “foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists” is largely false.

The National Review reported that “[a]ccording to the IRS Form 990s that Points of Light filed between 2006 and 2011, the organization gave a grant of over $13,500 to Islamic Relief USA, a charity that says it strives to alleviate ‘hunger, illiteracy, and diseases worldwide.’ ” Islamic Relief USA falls under the umbrella of Islamic Relief Worldwide, which the National Review article said has ties to the terrorist organization Hamas.

But there are two issues with what the National Review reported.

First, the money that Islamic Relief USA received did not come directly from Points of Light funds. The organization, through its former MissionFish business unit, allowed individuals selling items on eBay to choose whether to donate proceeds from their sales to any of over 20,000 charities, including Islamic Relief USA. So, it was eBay sellers who gave $13,500 to Islamic Relief USA. Points of Light, by way of MissionFish, simply processed the donations.

In fact, Islamic Relief USA is also listed in the Office of Personnel Management’s Combined Federal Campaign catalog as an approved charity to which federal employees can donate through automatic payroll deductions.

Second, it is not clear whether Islamic Relief Worldwide has ties to Hamas. In a statement, the charity denied claims from Israel’s Minister of Defense that it had links to the terrorist group. In June, Israel banned Islamic Relief Worldwide from operating in Israel.

Islamic Relief Worldwide, June 19: On 19 June 2014 the Israeli Defence Minister declared Islamic Relief Worldwide an “unauthorised association” and added it to a list of organisations on the Ministry of Defence website, preventing us from operating in Israel and the West Bank and citing links with Hamas. Islamic Relief Worldwide is extremely surprised and concerned by this, and categorically denies any links with Hamas.

Even so, the donations were for the U.S.-based charity, not the worldwide organization based in the United Kingdom.

Islamic Relief USA, a 501 (c)(3) tax exempt charity founded in California in 1993, says that it “is an independent affiliate of Islamic Relief Worldwide and the Islamic Relief family of charities. We are completely separate legal entities that work together under the Islamic Relief Worldwide umbrella to provide aid.”

The charity also has longstanding ties to U.S. corporations and the U.S. government. Its corporate supporters include the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the GE Foundation, the Cisco Foundation, HP (Hewlett Packard) and Microsoft. And, on its website, Islamic Relief USA notes that it has “an excellent working relationship with the federal government,” including a partnership with the Department of Agriculture on a summer food service program that provides meals to needy children. Plus, Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief USA’s chief executive officer, served on the 2013 USAID Advisory Committee On Voluntary Foreign Aid.

Also, MissionFish, now known as the PayPal Giving Fund, says it “screens all nonprofits to make sure they are not involved in the promotion of terrorism, hate, racial intolerance, or illegal activities,” according to eBay.

— D’Angelo Gore