U.S. Court Orders FEC to Enforce Federal Election Law against AIPAC

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U.S. Court Orders FEC to Enforce Federal Election Law Against AIPAC

None of the seven retired U.S. officials who filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in January 1988 charging that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and 27 named political action committees were violating federal election laws were in the bloom of youth at the time. Now, almost nine years later, when 10 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals finally have ruled 8 to 2 in their favor, one of the complainants has died, and five of the six survivors are in their 70s.

But they exhibited quiet satisfaction at the Dec. 6 ruling, as did the lawyers who had kept the case alive over the years by donating their services, charging only for clerical and related expenses. Their demand was that the FEC follow up its own ruling that AIPAC has functioned as a "political committee" by requiring the giant pro-Israel lobbying group to disclose where it gets its now $12 million annual budget, and how it spends that money.

The complainants believe that if the FEC enforces its own rules, the stranglehold that Israel's principal Washington, DC lobby has had on U.S. Middle East policy may eventually be loosened. Their charge is that although AIPAC has conducted itself as a political action committee, by not registering as one it has exempted itself both from disclosing publicly its receipts and expenditures, and from the federal law which restricts political action committees from donating more than $10,000 to a single candidate in a single election cycle.

They further believe, although it was not a part of the complaint to the FEC, that AIPAC has functioned as a foreign agent, openly pursuing the interests of each successive elected government of Israel, but without registering as such and thus subjecting itself to federal disclosure laws.

The complaint to the FEC, which in fact consisted of a number of separate filings, has a long and tortuous history. It was largely assembled by Abdeen Jabara, who now practices law in New York. As an activist lawyer in Detroit specializing in discrimination complaints, and during a subsequent four-year stint as president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), he saw extensive evidence of violations of election laws by AIPAC officers.

The complaint to the FEC has a long and tortuous history.

The seven public figures who eventually filed the complaint were James Akins, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia: the late George Ball, Kennedy administration under secretary of state who also served the Johnson administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Richard Curtiss, former chief inspector of the U.S. Information Agency; Paul Findley, an Illinois Republican member of the House of Representatives for 22 years; Rear Admiral Robert Hanks, former commander of the U.S. Navy's Mideast task force; Andrew Killgore, former U.S. ambassador to the state of Qatar; and Orin Parker, former president of AMIDEAST, a non-profit organization that conducts educational and training projects in the Middle East.

Some of the complainants had joined prominent journalists in writing or speaking publicly on AIPAC activities. They revealed that members of AIPAC's national board of directors had set up a large number of political action committees in their home states. Although none of the committees mentioned Israel, the Middle East, or Zionism in their non-descriptive titles, their donation patterns to Senate and House candidates followed recommendations in a closely held "green book" circulated to some AIPAC officers and donors.

A "smoking gun" had turned up in the form of a Sept. 30, 1986 memorandum from AIPAC's then-assistant director of political affairs, Elizabeth Schrayer, telling an AIPAC employee what to say in calls to a number of the PACs concerning their donations to named candidates. The copy of the memorandum that became public also had the employee's own hand-written notations concerning the calls. …