Two Republican state lawmakers from Northern Virginia received thousands of dollars in the summer and fall from the leaders of several Muslim groups whose Herndon headquarters were raided in March by federal agents investigating possible terrorist financing.
The network of individuals, foundations and businesses gave $8,000 to the reelection campaign of Del. Richard H. Black (Loudoun), campaign finance reports filed last week show. Ken Cuccinelli (Fairfax) took $5,400 in campaign cash from some of the same sources in July, a week before he won a special election to the Virginia Senate.
The donations came from M. Yaqub Mirza, president of the now-defunct Saar Foundation and vice president of the Safa Trust; Taha J. Alalwani, a founder of the International Institute of Islamic Thought; Jamal M. Barzinji, a president of the trust and institute secretary; Hisham Altalib, treasurer for the trust and institute vice president; Huda and Ahmed Totonji, other leaders of the institute; as well as several businesses whose offices were raided in March. The campaign finance data were compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.
Campaign money from some Muslim groups to statewide and federal candidates, including President Bush, became controversial after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. In November, Democratic U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr., who represents Arlington and Alexandria, returned thousands of dollars to officers of the groups under investigation. U.S. officials call the long-term probe a top priority of Operation Green Quest, a Customs Service task force effort to cut off funding to terrorist groups.
Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax), the former mayor of Herndon, said through an aide yesterday that he has returned contributions from the foundations since the raids but is keeping $1,750 he had received earlier for his 2001 campaign for the legislature.
The groups have given an additional $7,100 to several congressional campaigns in Virginia and elsewhere since the raids. The donations to Black and Cuccinelli are sizable for General Assembly
races. Black, a lawyer, reported raising more than $49,000 in the second half of last year and said he is being urged by state Republicans to seek statewide office in 2005. Cuccinelli, also a lawyer and a political novice who ran on an anti-tax, antiabortion platform, raised more than $137,000 for his special election campaign.
Neither lawmaker represents Herndon, where federal agents served warrants March 20 and 21 at offices and homes affiliated with the Saar Foundation, Safa Trust, the International Institute of Islamic Thought and a cluster of other prominent Muslim groups funded by wealthy Saudis.
U.S. authorities, who confiscated computer files and financial and other documents from the sites, are continuing to investigate the complex financial empire and to examine whether it sent funds to groups that sponsor terrorism.
Black and Cuccinelli said they were not aware when they accepted the money that the Herndon donors were under investigation. But neither said he plans to return the money as long as no one is charged or found guilty of a crime. "I concede that some people view this skeptically, but I'm unwilling to implicitly prove people wrong without some formal finding," Cuccinelli said.
Nancy Luque, the attorney for most of the individuals and groups raided, said her clients, like other Muslims, have a "long history" of donating money to Republican lawmakers. "Apparently there are a couple of Republicans who still believe in the presumption of innocence."
Black and Cuccinelli are two of Virginia's most conservative lawmakers. They said they have found common ground with Muslims who share their opposition to abortion and pornography and their support of traditional families.
"They were brought to my attention by Dick Black because they're so conservative, and my goodness, they are," Cuccinelli said of the groups. He said he met with them for about an hour shortly before his election Aug. 6. Black said he is an active supporter of Loudoun's growing Muslim community and is disturbed that many politicians abandoned Muslims after the terrorist attacks. He is a frequent visitor to a Sterling mosque run by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society.
"So few people are willing to reach out the hand of friendship and compassion," Black said. "The Muslims are just very grateful to anyone who doesn't turn his back on them.
"If someone is charged with an offense, I would give the money back. But it's pretty nebulous to say someone's from the Middle East and you shouldn't accept contributions from them."
Prominent conservatives, including Grover Norquist of the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, have courted Muslims as a new voter base for Republicans.
Rita Katz, a terrorism specialist and director of the SITE Institute, a Washington-based counter-terrorism group, said political support is essential to organizations such as those under investigation, even if they are not seeking specific legislation.
"That's why they target the local leaders, since they need the money more than anyone else," Katz said. "All of these groups have realized that if you want to change the map of the Middle East, you need to contact the U.S. politicians."
Staff writer Steven Ginsberg, research editor Margot Williams anddatabase editor Sarah Cohen contributed to this report.