By Kevin Bogardus - 11/16/09 05:00 AM EST
Supporters of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba have made more than
$10 million in campaign contributions since the 2004 election cycle.
Pro-embargo donors are also continuing to funnel more and more funds to Democrats, according to a report released Monday by Public Campaign, a watchdog group that supports public financing of election campaigns.
Pro-embargo PACs and their donors identified in the report gave 29 percent of their campaign contributions to Democratic candidates in the 2004 election, while giving 71 percent to Republicans. Those percentages have now almost completely flipped, with 59 percent of political donations going to Democrats in 2008 and 76 percent going to Democrats in the 2010 campaign so far.
One of the biggest beneficiaries has been the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), now run by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).
Menendez, a Cuban-American, opposes lifting the trade embargo against Cuba. He has also objected to the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill over changes by the White House in loosening travel restrictions against the Communist island nation.
While the DSCC received campaign contributions of more than $25,000 in 2006 and more than $60,000 in 2008 from those opposed to ending the embargo, fundraising has greatly increased this election cycle. Close to $150,000 has been raised from those same donors for the campaign committee for the 2010 election so far.
“In short, Sen. Menendez has raised more in the last eight months from hard-liners than his predecessors at the DSCC raised over four years,” the report says.
Public Campaign arrived at its findings by looking at donations from political action committees opposed to lifting the embargo against Cuba as well as separate campaign contributions by those committees’ donors.
Much of the report follows the political giving of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and its donors. Founded in 2003, the committee supports candidates who oppose any changes in U.S. policy that could finance the Castro regime and “who are committed to supporting legislation seeking to strengthen support for Cuba's courageous pro-democracy movement,” according to its website.
“Our committee always gets criticized for its political activism,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a former career Treasury Department attorney who serves as one of the PAC’s directors. “We are not going to apologize for using our constitutional rights to support and oppose candidates, and we are proud of it.”
The report identifies 18 House members — eight Democrats and ten Republicans — who have hardened their positions against Cuba after receiving donations from those against ending the trade embargo.
For example, the report said Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) voted in 2003 to repeal the ban on travel to Cuba. He later voted against lifting the travel ban after receiving donations from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.
Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) voted to ease travel and trade restrictions before 2004, but voted against a measure to allow Cubans to visit family members in 2004. In between, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC gave him donations.
McIntyre said his change of position on Cuba had nothing to do with campaign contributions. Instead, he told The Hill it was “a philosophical change of heart.”
After voting to ease restrictions on Cuba, McIntyre said he spoke with Reps. Lincoln (R-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) about their experiences in growing up under the Castro regime before coming to the United States.
“They literally fled for their lives,” McIntyre said. “I became convinced that anything we could do that would prop up a Communist regime 90 miles from our coast was not the right decision.”
As promised during his campaign for the White House, President Barack Obama has loosened restrictions on Cubans traveling to the island to visit relatives. Legislation offered in both the House and the Senate would allow travel for all U.S. citizens to the island nation.
The House bill is expected to come up on Thursday in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing discussing the travel ban.
Public Campaign argues special interest groups such as those pushing the Cuban embargo can unduly sway public policy through campaign donations. Publicly financed election campaigns are needed to reduce their influence, according to Public Campaign.
Claver-Carone said the PAC is a personal cause for many Cuban-Americans who want lawmakers to protest human rights violations by the Castro regime.
“If we do not speak out for democracy and human rights in Cuba, no one else will,” Claver-Carone said. “Yes, Cuban-Americans have vested interests. Our vested interests are friends and family who are suffering under the regime.”