Turkish Lobby in US Hits Record High in Campaign Donations


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

By Ragip Soylu

While Turkey and the United States are trying to maintain their bilateral relations amid the atmosphere of crises in the region with many tactical and ideological disagreements over issues such as the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and recent deployment of Turkish troops to Bashiqa, Iraq, Turkish-Americans have shown their financial presence on Capitol Hill. Turkish-American political action committees (PAC), the financial arm of the Turkish community in the U.S., this year received more donations than ever since their establishment.  Lincoln McCurdy, the treasurer of the Turkish Coalition USA PAC, told me that over 200 contributors donated about $314,000 to their campaign this year, a staggering 60 percent increase compared to last year while the number of contributors is almost the same. McCurdy said their educational drive for Turkish-American citizens helped their new success in this front. People seem to better understand the importance of U.S. Congress. Majority of the Turks, especially those who immigrated later to the U.S., are still somewhat distant to the financial contributions for candidates who run for public offices since they are not used to it. Turkey’s political system depends on the Treasury’s annual grants to political parties with the exception of presidential elections in which candidates have to bundle enough donations to run their campaigns.

McCurdy said they will use these donations to support some strategic candidates in specific districts to underline the Turkish-American role and power. For example, Turks already contributed $26,000 to Rep. Donna F. Edwards’s campaign because she is running against Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the Democratic primaries for a Senate seat for Maryland. Van Hollen is a strong supporter of Armenian and Greek issues in the House of Representatives whereas Edwards is a member of the Turkish caucus. These contributions also provide some quality time for Turkish-American businessmen and community leaders with members of Congress who would like to share their problems face-to-face with decision makers. McCurdy also mentioned their intention to focus more on the Senate, with which the Turkish lobby is currently not doing very well.

I previously criticized the Turkish government in this column for its failure to comprehend the importance of Congress and its reluctance to encourage Turkish-American grassroots involvement to do more for Turkish causes in Washington. However, a study by Turkish-American PACs show that independent Turkish initiatives are doing much more better than expected in the three main areas of lobbying against resolutions to officially recognize the Armenian genocide, the size of the Turkish caucus and the declining number of anti-Turkey draft bills.

The first Turkish-American PAC was established in 2007 and since then Turkey seems to be enjoying more support in Congress, especially regarding traditional issues. For example, there were 212 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives for the Armenian Genocide Resolution, which is a hot topic for Ankara because of the possible political and financial fallout. This year the representatives who co-sponsored the resolutions reduced to 63.

Another area of success is the size of the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations and Turkish-Americans. Clearly, the Turkish-American PACs played a crucial role to attract more members of Congress to the caucus. Since 2007, the caucus gained more members and reached 150 people this year. McCurdy, who has been part of all this work since the first Turkish-American PAC was established, said the expected normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations would bring this number to over 160. He foresees greater Israeli support for Turkish-American issues in Congress. “But one should not forget that Turkish-Americans were able to succeed without Israeli lobbyists for the last four years,” he said.

He is right. Despite the numerous letters critical of Turkey signed by both Democrat and Republican members of Congress, the number of anti-Turkey draft bills and resolutions reduced to three this year, while it was 15 in 2007. More pro-Turkey bills and resolutions were also submitted committee, with five this year. McCurdy and his friends have significant targets, such as reaching $500,000 of donations in a couple of years. His enthusiasm makes one feel like it might be possible to reach that target next year.

(This column originally appeared in the Daily Sabbah in Istanbul.)