The Democratic opponent of Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, has returned a $250 campaign contribution from an official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations after Republicans questioned whether the donation came from a terrorist.
The campaign for Ami Bera, an Elk Grove physician running against Lungren this year in the 3rd Congressional District, confirmed on Monday that Bera returned the contribution to Basim Elkarra, CAIR's executive director.
"We returned the contribution after questions about the organization's affiliations arose," Bera's campaign manager, Lucinda Guinn, said in an e-mail Tuesday. "This is a diversionary tactic designed by Lungren and his proxies to deflect from jobs, the economy and health care — the issues that this campaign is about."
When asked if Bera had any concerns about Elkarra or the CAIR organization, Guinn said, "Concerns were raised, and we thought it appropriate to return the contribution."
Conservative groups raised concerns about CAIR after two of its former members were sentenced to prison several years ago for crimes related to terrorist groups. The Sacramento CAIR chapter has not been linked to any wrongdoing.
The California Republican Party sent an e-mail last week calling attention to Elkarra's March contribution to Bera and calling CAIR a terrorist organization.
Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, maintains that CAIR has links to terrorism.
"If Ami Bera truly had reservations about the dealings of this terrorist-supporting group, then he would not have accepted the money in the first place and would've denounced the organization's ties to terrorism a long time ago," Burgos said in an e-mail on Monday." Bera likes to pretend that he's doing the right thing, but he's simply running for cover now that the story is hitting a little too close to home."
Elkarra said on Wednesday that he vehemently denies the accusations made by Republican officials. However, Elkarra said the allegations are sensitive, and he would prefer to wait until CAIR officials have time to write a well-thought-out statement.
Local academic leaders see the Elkarra donation as typical political banter.
"While it's true that the FBI no longer cooperates with CAIR, and federal prosecutors consider it an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation Case, there is no evidence that it supports terrorism or attacks on Americans," said Keith David Watenpaugh, an associate professor of modern Islam, human rights and peace at UC Davis.
"Indeed, (CAIR) is an organization that advocates on behalf of Muslim Americans," Watenpaugh said. "What is more important is that" Bera succumbed to the growing national hysteria about Islam in America and the NRCC's fear-mongering, in particular."
Flagg Miller, another associate professor at UC Davis, added, "It's very typical. It makes news, The Republican committee just wanted a little air time. It's dangerous to be throwing these accusations around. If the national Republican committee is going to send e-mails (like this), come up with the evidence."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.
CAIR at a glance
Full name: Council on American-Islamic Relations
What it does: Challenges stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, encourages Muslims to set themselves as examples of the Islamic values of compassion, tolerance and moderation. Also a political advocacy group.
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
Nearest chapter: Sacramento
More information: 916-441-6269 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Source: Council on American-Islamic Relations.