| The Question of Carter’s Cash
In which our reporter follows the money
National Review | January 23, 2007
Did Jimmy Carter do it for the money? That’s the question making the rounds about Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, an anti-Israeli screed recently written by the ex-president whose Carter Center has accepted millions in Arab funding.
Even in Carter’s long history of post-presidential grandstanding, this book sets fresh standards of irresponsibility. Purporting to give a balanced view of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, Carter effectively shrugs off such highly germane matters as Palestinian terrorism. The hypocrisies are boundless, and include adoring praise of the deeply oppressive, religiously intolerant Saudi regime side by side with condemnations of democratic Israel. In one section, typical of the book’s entire approach, Carter includes a “Historical Chronology,” from Biblical times to 2006, in which he dwells on events surrounding his 1978 Camp David Accords but omits the Holocaust. Kenneth W. Stein, the founder of the Carter Center’s Middle East program, resigned last month to protest the book, describing it in a letter to Fox News as “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.” As this article goes to press, more protest resignations, this time from the Carter Center’s board of councilors, appear to be in the works.
If there is a silver lining to any of this, it is that Carter’s book has drawn much-overdue attention to some of the funding that pours into the Carter Center, whose intriguing donor list includes anti-Israeli tycoons and Middle East states. Founded in 1982 and appended to Carter’s presidential library, the center has served for almost a quarter century as the main base and fund-raising magnet for Carter’s self-proclaimed mission to save the world.
In recent weeks, a number of articles have noted that Carter’s anti-Israeli views coincide with those of some of the center’s prime financial backers, including the government of Saudi Arabia and the foundation of Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, whose offer of $10 million to New York City just after Sept. 11 was rejected by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani because it came wrapped in the suggestion that America rethink its support of Israel. Other big donors listed in the Carter Center’s annual reports include the Sultanate of Oman and the sultan himself; the government of the United Arab Emirates; and a brother of Osama bin Laden, Bakr BinLadin, “for the Saudi BinLadin Group.” Of lesser heft, but still large, are contributions from assorted development funds of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as of OPEC, whose membership includes oil-rich Arab states, Nigeria (whose government is also a big donor to the Carter Center), and Venezuela (whose anti-American strongman Hugo Chávez benefited in a 2004 election from the highly controversial monitoring efforts of the Carter Center).
A recent editorial in Investor’s Business Daily, headlined “Jimmy Carter’s Li’l Ol’ Stink Tank,” listed a number of “founders” of the Carter Center. The names were drawn from the annual reports, and included “the king of Saudi Arabia, BCCI scandal banker Agha Hasan Abedi, and Arafat pal Hasib Sabbagh.” And, writing last month in the Washington Times, terror-funding expert Rachel Ehrenfeld described links going back to the 1970s between the Carter family peanut business and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, whose Pakistani founder helped bankroll the Carter Center at least until BCCI went belly-up in 1991, busted as a global criminal enterprise.
There is, of course, much more to the Carter Center than this list implies. It is large, with assets totaling $377 million (as of 2005), an operating budget of some $46.8 million, a staff of some 150, a 200-member board of councilors, and hundreds of donors, including not only individuals and foundations, but the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department. Some of the center’s work is devoted to such laudable causes as wiping out the parasitical guinea worm. Indeed, it is possible to glean from various news items and brief mentions in the center’s annual reports that some of the more intriguing donors, such as the sultan of Oman and the OPEC development fund, have been giving money for exactly such causes. According to one notation on the Carter Center website, for example, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia donated $7.6 million in 1993 to help Carter fight the guinea worm.
But notwithstanding such occasional tidbits, it’s stunningly hard to discern from the Carter Center’s public documents who is giving precisely how much, and for what. Donor names, sometimes listed only as “Anonymous,” are lumped under broad categories such as “$100,000 or more” or “$1 million or more.” There is no systematic tally of just how much “more” — no clear way to know, for example, whether Saudi money accounts for only a tad of Carter’s funding or a mighty dollop, and whether the Saudi share of total contributions has changed over the years. Neither is there any systematic disclosure of who is funding exactly what activities in the name of “waging peace,” “fighting disease,” and “building hope” — the center’s self-proclaimed missions. A reporter’s e-mail exchange with Carter Center press secretary Deanna Congileo elicits the response that none of the anonymous donors are from the Middle East, but no further details can be released without permission from the donors — which, even if granted, will take some time to obtain (stay tuned).
All this might be less disturbing had Carter confined his post-presidential efforts to such good works as vanquishing the guinea worm. But for years he has run his own mini-presidency — complete with a series of attempts to outflank or shape the policies of sitting presidents. These have included — to name just two examples — his letter-writing campaign in 1990 to members of the United Nations Security Council, in an effort to thwart the Bush I coalition that fought the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein; and his 1994 trip to North Korea, where he proposed to the dying tyrant Kim Il Sung a deeply flawed nuclear-freeze deal that may well have helped Kim’s son consolidate power and develop ICBMs and atomic bombs.
It could be argued that Carter, whatever his pretensions, is, after all, a private individual running a private foundation, and is therefore under no obligation to disclose full details of the getting and spending of the river of money flowing through his center. (In 2004, the most recent year for which the center’s website makes such figures available, donations totaled $146 million.) But in all his waging and fighting and building (and fundraising), Carter has been trading for years on the respect accorded to his former public office. Regardless of whatever room for murk the law allows, full financial disclosure is what sound judgment demands. The Carter Center itself makes much in promotional materials of its efforts to strengthen democracies by “promoting government transparency.” Is Carter so rigidly certain of his rectitude that he believes himself exempt from his own preaching?
In a recent Los Angeles Times opinion piece defending his new book (and insinuating that the debate over it is being controlled by pro-Israeli lobbyists), Carter wrote that he is merely seeking a “free and balanced discussion of the facts.” It is quite possible that even he may not know for sure whether he has molded his views to suit anti-Israeli donors; whether his center has attracted the money of such donors because they like his views; or whether, while fighting the guinea worm, he simply made the unrelated mistake of writing an appallingly biased and bad book. But having parlayed his former public office into global influence, he owes the public at least this much: Tell us, clearly and directly, enough about your supporters and their money that we can, with full information, decide for ourselves what is going on.
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