WASHINGTON – The chairman of President Bush's (search) Homeland Security Advisory Committee and Democratic challenger John Kerry's (search) fund-raising chief are among 27 top campaign cash-raisers who are current or former managers of companies punished for trading with Iran or Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Both candidates agree that Iran and Saddam have supported terrorism, and Bush called those two countries and North Korea (search) an "axis of evil" that threatened to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. Bush and Kerry say they want the United States to hunt down and kill or capture terrorists.
And both say those who harbor or finance terrorists are just as guilty.
But the tough talk doesn't address the role of American companies that do business, intentionally or not, with countries such as Iran on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Nineteen people who have raised more than $100,000 for Bush are current or former executives or directors of a dozen firms fined for transactions with Iran and Iraq during the past decade, government records show. Nine top Kerry fund-raisers work or worked for five of those companies. All held their respective positions when some or all of the disputed transactions took place.
Does that cast a cloud over the contributions?
"The companies themselves aren't contributing," Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stenzel said.
Kerry campaign spokesman Michael Meehan had a similar response: "Those individuals represent themselves and not their places of employment."
Some of the executives and companies involved said the violations were unintentional slip-ups inevitable in large firms with global operations.
"In most of these cases, the violations are certainly not intentional and usually inadvertent," said Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton. The Treasury Department cited Bank of America or its subsidiaries seven times in the past five years for transferring funds to or operating accounts for people in Iran, Sudan and Cuba.
Bank of America Vice Chairman James H. Hance Jr. has raised more than $200,000 for Bush's 2004 campaign.
As for Iraq, Bush has seven and Kerry has three top fund-raisers from companies fined for doing business with Saddam's government.
One example is Joseph J. Grano Jr. a top Bush fund-raiser and chairman of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Grano is the former chairman of an American subsidiary of the Swiss bank UBS AG and was one of the bank's six executive board members. He now runs a consulting firm, Centurion Holdings LLC.
The bank paid a $14,750 penalty for permitting a 2001 funds transfer to Iraq. UBS also paid a $100 million fine to the Federal Reserve this year after regulators discovered that UBS workers in Zurich traded billions of dollars worth of U.S. currency with Iran, Libya, Cuba and Yugoslavia between 1996 and 2003.
Some of that cash ended up in Iraq, where U.S. troops seized hundreds of millions of dollars last year — some still in wrappings from the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
Grano, a former Army Green Beret, said he was never involved in either case while he was with UBS from 2001 until earlier this year. He said he never saw evidence of support for terrorism at UBS.
"All their activities I was involved in were 1,000 percent in support of our country in the war on terrorism," he told The Associated Press.
Grano said he never discussed the UBS cases with anyone at the Homeland Security Department. He didn't have to, said Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.
"There are no legal requirements that require council members to discuss anything about their employers," Roehrkasse said.
Another UBS executive with political connections is Blair Effron, a managing director of UBS Investment Bank. Effron is a top fund-raiser for Kerry and co-chairs Kerry's business outreach program. Robert Wolf, chief operating officer of UBS Investment Bank, also raised more than $100,000 for Kerry.
UBS spokesman Mark Arena said the bank would not arrange interviews with Effron or Wolf. Arena said UBS recognized "very serious mistakes were made" in dealing with terrorism sponsors.
The punished firm with the most extensive links to the presidential candidates is JPMorgan Chase & Co. Two longtime JPMorgan directors are Bush fund-raisers, as are two former and one current executive. Another JPMorgan executive, Nancy Pfund, is a top fund-raiser for Kerry.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has cited JPMorgan and its subsidiaries five times for business with Iran in the past decade and once for a $50,000 funds transfer by subsidiary Chase Manhattan Bank to Iraq in 1999.
"JPMorgan Chase has appropriate policies and procedures in place to fully comply with the OFAC regulations," spokeswoman Judy Miller said.
Both Kerry and Bush also say they're concerned about Iran's nuclear programs, which U.S. officials say are designed to make bombs but Tehran says are only to produce electricity.
The 12 punished companies managed by Bush fund-raisers have been cited 27 times for dealings with Iran since President Clinton banned all trade with Tehran in 1995, records of the Office of Foreign Assets Control say. The five punished companies managed by Kerry fund-raisers were cited 12 times for Iran dealings.
One example is Citigroup, which has one Bush fund-raiser on its board of directors and four Kerry fund-raisers in top executive ranks. Kerry's campaign finance chairman, Louis B. Susman, is vice chairman of Citigroup Global Markets.
The assets control office cited Citigroup three times for transactions involving Iran and twice for doing business with entities on the U.S. terrorist watch list.
Susman and Citigroup spokeswoman Shannon Bell did not respond to requests for comment.