Sam Allard / Scene
Dennis Kucinich listens to an audience question during a City Club forum (2/27/2018).
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich has said that he will return a $20,000 fee he received in 2017
to deliver a speech at a conference in London. The conference, organized by the European Center for the Study of Extremism (EuroCSE), was characterized by some prominent members of the UK Syrian community as a "Pro-Assad" Conference.
Kucinich announced his intention to return the fee in a letter to the Plain Dealer editorial board, after an editorial this week called on him
to sever ties with apologists for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. (The editorial reaffirmed the paper's endorsement of Kucinich, however, and it was unclear whether or not a continued endorsement was contingent upon the severing of ties.)
Kucinich said, in his letter, that the organization that paid for his trip, the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees, "did not identify itself as having any interest other than human rights and never specifically mentioned to me their interest in or position regarding the Syrian regime.
"If they had, I would have declined their offer," Kucinich said, "because anyone who stands for peace must be able to remain above the appearance of influence. Accordingly, having only recently learned of their advocacy, I am returning their fee."
Kucinich has also come under fire in the national media
for receiving payments from Bassam and Elie Khawam, "brothers linked to Assad." After that news broke, Kucinich quickly sent out material indicating that the Ohio brothers, originally from Lebanon, had been unfairly accused. They were personal friends of his and regular political fundraisers, Kucinich said, who had donated to many elected Democrats in Ohio and nationally, including Sherrod Brown, Marcy Kaptur and Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Kucinich was keen to note that the Khawams also organized fundraising and donated personally to former Governor Ted Strickland, who'd questioned Kucinich's associations on behalf of the Richard Cordray campaign.
In his letter to the Plain Dealer, Kucinich addressed earlier trips to the Middle East sponsored by AACCESS-Ohio, a local Arab-American group of which the Khawam brothers are members.
"At no time during any of the trips sponsored by AACCESS to the region, during which I visited the government as well as the opposition, did I ever take sides in Syria’s internal politics, or publicly state support for the regime, its repressive practices, its brutality to political opponents, or its security state apparatus," Kucinich said.
He concluded that he'd learned a valuable lesson "on the necessity of ever more carefully regarding the appearance of entanglement."