Pro-Peace or Pro-Assad? Dennis Kucinich, Richard Cordray and Attempts to Frame a "Bombshell" $20,000 Speech

click to enlarge Dennis! learns about 'the microbio' with John Stolz / Ohio "Environmental Devastation Tour," 3/9/2018. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Dennis! learns about 'the microbio' with John Stolz / Ohio "Environmental Devastation Tour," 3/9/2018.
In a supplement provided to the Ohio Ethics Commission earlier this week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich disclosed that he'd received a $20,000 payment in 2017 from a group called the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees, ("the Association").

Kucinich provided the supplemental disclosure, which specified the sources of income for three paid speeches in 2017, after Gregory Hicks, a Richard Cordray supporter and the law director for the city of Warren, Ohio, filed a complaint with the Commission. Hicks noted in his complaint that Kucinich listed "paid speeches" as a source of income on his original disclosure form.

"Paid speeches are not a source of income," Hicks wrote in the April 15 complaint. "They are a type of income."

The $20,000 that Kucinich received was for a speech he delivered at a conference organized by the European Center for the Study of Extremism (EuroCSE). According to the Kucinich camp, the payment also covered his travel expenses to and from the UK.

The funds were furnished by a group called the Syria Solidarity Movement, a nonprofit organization under the fiscal umbrella of the Association. It purports "to provide alternate Syrian views of the crisis, to study alternate means of resolution and to pursue an end to the crisis."

Material published on the Syria Solidarity Movement's website overwhelmingly advances a position in favor of the Syrian regime and its dictator, Bashar Al-Assad. That's by design, says the Association's treasurer, Paul Larudee.

"What we try to do is demonstrate that much the anti-Syria stuff is deeply flawed," Larudee told Scene by phone from his home in northern California, Thursday. "We try to show points of view and facts that often contradict what you see in the mainstream. We feel no need to repeat all the points of view."

He chuckled when we suggested that the site read like an Assad propaganda outlet.

"I'm sure a lot of people are saying that," Larudee said, "but that's not our intention. I think what we put out there, from various sources, deserves to be considered on its own merits. Sometimes the information has proven to be incorrect, but there's an awful lot of correct information and good analysis."

Larudee confirmed that the Syria Solidarity Movement is one of several linked groups under the umbrella of the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees, a 501(c)3 formed in 2007. He said there are currently about eight active "projects," including the Free Gaza Movement and the Free Palestine Movement.

Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray, Kucinich's main opponent, has been attacking Kucinich for the $20,000 payment with the same relish that Kucinich himself has attacked Cordray for his "A" rating from the NRA. Cordray has noted, among other unsavory affiliations, that the Association is under the titular leadership of a man named Kamal Obeid, who serves on the board of an organization called the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.

The Association also shares an acronym with a much more popular outfit: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and Larudee said that's "kind of an inside joke." He said there was even a legal tussle with AIPAC over the name some years ago. "They came after us with gold-plated lawyers," Larudee said. "They told us we had to change our name. We said, 'no we don't.' And we said, we would never want to be confused with you. We're a human rights organization." 

Larudee said that he can't recall ever having met Kucinich personally, but that they funded Kucinich's appearance at the EuroCSE conference at the request of conference organizers.

"Our motivation was that Kucinich is one of the strongest pursuers of peace among almost any candidate anywhere," Larudee said. "His motivations for going to Syria with Tulsi Gabbard, as I understand it, was to try to achieve peace. That doesn't imply support for any particular government or outcome other than peace, and to get U.S. out of Syria in terms of military support to groups on either side."

("We were there to gather facts on where things stand now and how they see their situation," Kucinich told last year. "The one thing we weren't there to do was make policy.")

Nevertheless, the EuroCSE conference was understood in the UK to be a pro-Assad gathering. In the aftermath of this week's disclosure, Kucinich has repeatedly characterized the conference as a "Peace Conference," and released a portion of his speech, which did indeed call for peace and neither praised nor condemned Assad by name.

But the conference was the subject of controversy and protest. A letter signed by several members of the UK-based Syrian community argued against it, suggesting that EuroCSE "appear[ed] to exist primarily to spread propaganda for the Assad dictatorship."

Kucinich has been dogged by connections to the Syrian leader, a known war criminal, throughout the campaign. He has interviewed Assad twice, including on the 2017 trip with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard mentioned above, and has raised questions about the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons.

(This episode of the Intercepted podcast is worth a listen. It features extended commentary from Kucinich after his Assad interview.)

Kucinich has long decried the United States policy of regime change and was an early opponent of the Iraq War. His calls for independent inquiries into recent gas attacks and his opposition to last week's military strike — if not his Assad apologia — is in keeping with his stances historically.

"President Trump acted without congressional authorization in ordering a military attack against Syria tonight," Kucinich said, in an official statement last week. "This is a clear violation of the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8 which makes it clear that only Congress has the power to declare war. The President’s Article II authority as “Commander in Chief” does not give him the authority to act independent of Congress on matters of war. This is not a mere technicality. The doctrine of separation of powers is the only thing which protects the US from becoming a dictatorship. The President is subject to the law. The gas attack on Douma must be dealt with in an international court of law. If the US does not stand for the rule of law, how can we demand other countries to do so?"

Kucinich's views on Syrian intervention, as in the past, are sharply divergent from the U.S. mainstream. The nonprofit Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) found that among the top 100 newspapers in the United States, not a single editorial board opposed the military strike on April 13.

Per the supplement to his ethics filing, Kucinich also received $10,000 from an organization called Nexus Earth and $3,000 from author and spiritualist Marianne D. Williamson, who co-founded the nonprofit Peace Alliance. All three engagements were grouped together as "paid speeches" on his initial disclosure form.

Wednesday, Cordray's campaign hosted a media conference call with former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who said that Kucinich obviously knew that the speeches would be problematic for his campaign and deliberately obscured them. 

"The fact that Kucinich intentionally omitted this speaks volumes," Strickland said. "We now know that Dennis wasn't just defending Assad out of conviction. He was also being paid by a group that has been a cheerleader for this murderous dictator, and with ties to the disgusting 9/11 truther movement, and by individuals who claim that Israel's goal is ethnic cleansing."  (These are references to Kamal Obeid and Paul Larudee.) 

Strickland said that with the Ohio Statehouse currently "ravaged by scandal," referencing the recent resignation of House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and the lavish lifestyle that spurred an FBI investigation, voters couldn't afford to have a candidate with questionable financial dealings of his own.

"Dennis simply doesn't have credibility in enforcing transparency and morality at the statehouse," Strickland said.

Most urgently, Strickland said, Kucinich must "come clean" about whether he has received other payments from other pro-Assad groups or those associated with the Syrian regime. He called for "100-percent transparency," and demanded that Kucinich release the full transcripts of every paid speech he has delivered since he left congress.

"I don't know what the speeches might show," Strickland said, when questioned about the demand. "But it's important that we have that information. He has chosen to associate himself with some of the most despicable people imaginable. You don't get much lower than gassing men, women and little kids. And that's what the Assad regime has done... It would be hugely embarrassing if Dennis were to get the nomination." 

Strickland wouldn't go as far as saying that Kucinich should resign from the race — "that's for him to decide," — but said his obligation to Ohio voters "is to be crystal clear, totally utterly transparent." 

The Kucinich camp denied that the "obscured information" on the disclosure form was anything other than a misunderstanding. Kucinich spokesman Andy Junewicz said that they though it was sufficient to list "speeches" as a source of income without the specific sponsoring organizations. Kucinich received a letter from the Ohio Ethics Commission Monday asking for additional information, and it was supplied the very next day, "including dollar amounts not required by statute."

"Ask yourself," Junewicz said, "if you wanted to conceal that you made some money delivering speeches, would you even list "speeches" as a source of income on a public document?"

When Scene replied that the obvious concern was not that Kucinich made money on speeches, but from whom, Junewicz replied definitively.

"There was no attempt to conceal anything. None. At any time," he said. "The more-than-full disclosure should prove that conclusively." 

Susan Willeke, of the Ohio Ethics Commission, said that her office receives between 10,000 and 11,000 financial disclosure forms every year, and that it's "not terribly uncommon" for supplements of the sort Kucinich provided to be asked for.

Willeke said she preferred not to speak in specific terms and said she didn't like the term "red flag" — as any financial disclosure form might be considered a red flag if looked at in a certain way — but that Kucinich's form wouldn't automatically trigger an audit. 

She said in general, it looks much worse if supplemental information is provided after an extended period of time.

"If you're Joe Smith [random name], and two years after your disclosure, all of a sudden you remember a paid trip to Spain," Willeke said, "that raises more questions. We always say come to us if you have questions and provide information as soon as you are able."

Meantime, both Cordray and Kucinich have deployed their media relations arsenals in a Democratic race that's approaching the attack-dog tenor of the Republican side. To hear these spokespeople and surrogates tell it, Dennis is personally responsible for gassing children. Cordray himself is a gleeful mass shooter. 

In addition to the Strickland press call, the Cordray team has issued a "fact check" on the EuroCSE conference, resplendent with hyperlinks, and filed a memo to the media from the Cordray/Sutton campaign manager about the recent "bombshell report" titled: "Unanswered Questions about Kucinich's Financial Ties."

Kucinich, for his part, is reverting to attacking Cordray on guns, his chief policy vulnerability, at least among Democrats galvanized by Parkland. In a press release after the Strickland call, Kucinich called the former governor's comments "reprehensible in their distortions and outright lies."

"He has obviously been enlisted into a vicious smear campaign launched by a desperate Richard Cordray," Kucinich declared, ratcheting up the rhetoric further still, "whose only clear, unequivocal, and consistent position is to protect deadly assault weapons on behalf of the National Rifle Association."

For heaven's sake.

Kucinich did manage to refrain from bashing Cordray in his press release Friday morning, announcing his participation in School Walkout Day, in commemoration of the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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