Members of a secretive Turkish Islamic movement that is at thecenter of a congressional ethics committee investigation havedonated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton’spresidential campaign and to her family’s charity, a DailyCaller investigation has found.
A former president of the Gulen-linked Turkish Cultural Center,OzkanÂ gave between $500,001 and $1,000,000 to theClinton Foundation in recent months, the charity’s websiteshows. He also served as a national finance co-chair last year fora pro-Clinton political action committee called Ready PAC.
According to Portland State University political scienceprofessor Birol Yesilada, who has studied the Gulen movement formore than 25 years, Ozkan is the New York liaison for the74-year-old Gulen,Â who has lived in the Poconos since1999 when he went into exile after he was accused of attempting toundermine Turkey’s secular regime in order to institute anIslamic state.
Gulen also recently ran afoul of Turkey’s president, RecipTayyip Erdogan. Erdogan accused Gulenists of operating a“parallel state,” and he reportedly lobbied PresidentObama last month to extradite Gulen back to Turkey.
By most accounts, the Gulen movement, or Hizmet as it is knownto some, is not a radical Islamic movement. Yesilada, who serves asthe contemporary Turkish Studies endowed chair at Portland StateUniversity, told TheDC in an interview that he has found noevidence of Gulenist ties to any terrorist groups.
But with an estimated 8 million followers and $50 billion inassets, Gulenists do hope to influence both the U.S. and Turkishpolitical system through a worldwide network of businesses,nonprofit organizations, media companies and charter schools,Yesilada and others familiar with the group have claimed.
Hillary Clinton speaks at theTurkish Cultural Center, Sept. 2007. (Youtube screengrab)
To help support its diverse interests, Gulen movement supportersin the U.S. have in recent years begun to donate heavily tonumerous political campaigns. Gulenists have also paid for hundredsof Turkish “cultural” trips for members of Congressfrom both sides of the political aisle.
Gulenists’ contributions to congressional campaigns havebeen known for some time, asÂ Buzzfeed reported last year.Â TexasReps. Sheila Jackson-Lee and Henry Cuellar , both Democrats, areamong the biggest benefactors of Gulen contributions.
USA TodayÂ reported last month that the House ethicscommittee has investigated more than 200 trips taken by members ofCongress since 2008 that were secretly funded by Gulen groups.
While the ethics committee found that none of the members ofCongress who went on the trips violated federal regulations,investigators found evidence suggesting that the Gulenists“may have affirmatively lied to and/or withheldinformation” about the junkets and falsified disclosuresprovided to Congress.
The matter has since been referred to the Department of Justice.The FBI has also reportedly investigated whether theGulen movement’s charter schools — of which there aremore than 130 — have taken advantage of the H1-B visa systemby hiring Turkish teachers who are kicking back some of theirgovernment-paid salaries to the Gulen movement.
Some of the Gulenist campaign donations may have been illegal aswell, USA Today reported on Friday. The newspaper reported thatNew Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte , a Republican, returned $43,100 indonations she received from 19 Turkish donors with ties to Gulenthat she received on April 30, 2014.
Many of those donors who gave to Ayotte could not be located,USA Today reported. Others gave donations that comprised asuspiciously large percentage of their incomes.
In giving back the donations, Ayotte called on otherpoliticians, including Clinton, to return Gulen money. The Clintoncampaign did not respond to an email from TheDC asking whether theDemocrat would return the contributions.
Clinton has been the biggest recipient of Gulenist donations ofany presidential candidate this cycle, federal election recordsshow.
Besides his massive Clinton Foundation donation, Recep Ozkan,who is listed on various campaign finance disclosures as anexecutive at JIG Corp., Everglobe Partners, and BaharuInc.,Â gave $25,000 to the pro-Clinton Ready PAC in2014. He contributed an additional $5,400 to her campaign thisyear.
As president of the Turkish Cultural Center, Ozkan hostedClinton at Ramadan celebration dinners in 2006 and 2007 when shewas in the Senate.
A photo taken during Clinton’s 2006appearance shows her posing with Ozkan in front of a bannerlisting a number of Gulen-affiliated organizations, such as ZamanInternational Newspaper, the Interfaith Dialogue Center, and twoNew York-based Gulen charter schools, Brooklyn Amity School andLong Island Amity School.
Another national finance co-chair of the pro-Clinton Ready PACis Gokhan Ozkok. A founding board member of the Turkish CulturalCenter, Ozkok is listed on that organization’swebsite as a member of the Clinton Global Initiative.He’s also donated between $25,001 and $50,000 to the ClintonFoundation.
In addition, Ozkok, who is listed on campaign finance records asworking for Gulen charter school companies like Sema Education andApple Education Services, contributed $10,000 to Ready PAC lastyear and $1,500 Hill PAC in 2008. He’s given $2,700 to herformal campaign this year, and gave $5,525 to other Clinton PACsand to her presidential campaign from 2006 to 2008, recordsshow.
A number of officials from other charities in the Gulen networksuch as the Turkic American Business Network, Istanbul Center, RumiForum, the Turkish American Business Council, the Peace IslandsInstitue, and the Turkic American Alliance have also donated toClinton’s campaigns and PACs.
Altan Kalayci, the president of the Istanbul Center, which isalso known as the Global Spectrum Foundation, gave $17,000 to ReadyPAC in 2014, a contribution which also won him the designation of anational finance co-chair for the committee. As USA Today found inits investigation of the congressional trips, the Istanbul Centersponsored a nine-day visit to Turkey for Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks ,his wife and four staffers which was secretly funded by aTurkey-based organization tied to Gulen.
Ercan Keskin, a board member of the Rumi Forum and the TurkishAmerican Business Council, donated the federal maximum of $2,700 toClinton’s formal campaign in April 2015. He gave $1,000 toher 2008 presidential campaign.
Fazli Celik, the chairman of the Rumi Forum, also gave Clinton$2,700 in April and $1,000 to her last White Housebid.Â Zafer Akin, an attorney and president of the PeaceIslands Institute, another Gulenist outfit, also gave $2,700 toClinton’s campaign in April.
Talha Sarac, who chairs the Gulen-linked Turkish AmericanBusiness Network, gave the maximum $2,700 to Clinton’scampaign on April 29, 2015, the same day that many other Gulenistsgave to the Democrat’s cause. Another group executive, EminHalac, donated the same amount to the Clinton campaign that day.Mahmut Yeter, a member of the Turkish American Business Network andformer executive director of theÂ Turkic AmericanAssociations, gave $5,050 in 2008 cycle.
Another Clinton donor operating in the Gulen network is BurakYeneroglu, a businessman who is closely affiliated with the TurkicAmerican Alliance. (RELATED:Â Major Hillary Donor ConductedReview Of Erroneous Clinton Foundation TaxReturns)
Records show that he gave the Clinton campaign $2,700 in Apriland donated $12,500 to her PAC last year. In 2008, he gave $5,000to Hill PAC, the political action committee set up for Clinton in2008.
Yeneroglu is also named in the House Office of Congressional Ethics reporton trips to Turkey provided to members of Congress by Gulenorganizations for a $6,100 check he wrote to the Council of TurkicAmerican Associations in May 2013 to pay for a trip to TurkeyforÂ New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance , a Republican.
None of the Gulen-linked groups asked by TheDC for commentresponded. Ozkan also did not reply to an emailed request forcomment.
It is not exactly clear why Gulenists have donated so heavily toClinton’s campaign. A Clinton White House is unlikely tobenefit the charter school industry which is central to theGulenist network. In a speech earlier this month Clinton criticizedcharter schools, claiming that they often refuse to take studentswho are difficult to teach. Though Clinton and her husband haveboth praised charter schools in the past, the Democrat’sflip-flop was seen by many as a political appeal to teachersunions.
Asked whether the purpose of the Gulenists’ politicalcontributions is part of an effort to support their charterschools, to open up business opportunities for Turks, or to protectFethullah Gulen, Yesilada said “all of the above.”
“And also finding sympathetic ears for theirexistence,” he added, noting the annual cultural tripsGulenists provide to members of Congress.
“Gulenists right now are keeping a low profile, but theyare reaching out everywhere through a very clever lobbying effortto maintain their political connections and to make sure sympathystays,” Yesilada said.
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