Democrats intensely recruited Nunn, and the seat, which is being vacated by Republican senator Saxby Chambliss, is widely considered their best pickup opportunity in the Senate of this election cycle. Though Nunn announced her candidacy last July, many of her positions have remained vague: She skipped most of the debates with her Democratic-primary opponents and artfully dodged questions on tricky political issues such as Obamacare.
Though the campaign plan recommends emphasizing Nunn’s accomplishments at the Points of Light Foundation, which she has done on the campaign trail, her strategists express enormous concern about attacks that might arise from her work there. She has served as CEO of Points of Light since 2007 and, according to the document, it has made grants to “terrorists” and “inmates” during her tenure. The document also makes reference to a 2010 audit that concluded Points of Light’s accounting system was “not adequate to account for federal funds.”
According to the IRS Form 990s that Points of Light filed between 2006 and 2011, the organization gave a grant of over $13,500 to Islamic Relief USA, a charity that says it strives to alleviate “hunger, illiteracy, and diseases worldwide.” Islamic Relief USA is part of a global network of charities that operate under the umbrella of Islamic Relief Worldwide. Islamic Relief USA says on its website that it is a legally separate entity from its parent organization, but that they share “a common vision, mission, and family identity.”
Islamic Relief Worldwide has ties to Hamas, which the U.S. designates as a terrorist organization. In June, Israel banned the charity from operating in the country because, according to Israeli officials, it was funneling cash to Hamas. In 2006, Israelis arrested Islamic Relief Worldwide’s Gaza coordinator, Ayaz Ali. They said he was working to “transfer funds and assistance to various Hamas institutions and organizations.” Ali admitted to cooperating with local Hamas operatives while working in Jordan and, on his computer, Israeli officials found photographs of “swastikas superimposed on IDF symbols,” and of Nazi officials, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Islamic Relief USA highlighted the work of Islamic Relief Worldwide in Palestine in its 2012 annual report, in which it talks generally about the work of Islamic Relief charities in the region without drawing a distinction between the branches. The organization has raised eyebrows before. According to a 2012 report, its bank account was closed by UBS and it was “under constant scrutiny by other banks due to nervousness about counterterrorist regulations.” The group’s terror ties extend beyond Hamas, according to a former Israeli intelligence official. He says that Islamic Relief Worldwide’s country director in Palestine, Muneed Abugazaleh, met in April 2012 with Dr. Omar Shalah, a leader of the terror group Islamic Jihad and of the Riyad al-Saleheen Charitable Society, which is affiliated with the group. He is also the brother of Ramadan Shalah, the leader of Islamic Jihad.
Nunn and the HandsOn Network, which operates under the umbrella of Points of Light, also heaped praise on a former death-row inmate even after his continued run-ins with the law. Shareef Cousin is one of the contributors to Nunn’s 2007 book, Be the Change, a collection of quotations and reflections from people who, according to Nunn, have embraced their “capacity to make a difference.”
Cousin’s inspiring story was bookended with troubling behavior. In 1996, at the age of 16, he became the country’s youngest-ever death-row inmate. His conviction was overturned in 1998, but he remained in prison until 2005 on a 20-year sentence for armed robberies he had pled guilty to before his murder trial. In 2008, while he was still on parole, Cousin pleaded guilty to using his boss’s Social Security number to obtain credit cards and then, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, using the cards for a “$42,000 spending spree on audio equipment and a paint job for his car.” In August 2010, the HandsOn Network recognized Cousin as a “voice of change.”
Former president George H. W. Bush founded the Points of Light Foundation in 1987 to encourage volunteerism across the country. Since Nunn became the CEO in 2007, it has awarded grants to hundreds of charitable groups, and the campaign document raises alarm bells about “grants to problematic entities” and “notable line items” in its 990 forms. It has given money to organizations whose charitable missions appear questionable, including the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which sponsors gatherings of mountain-biking “thought leaders,” and the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, which seeks to foster a global network of lesbian and gay bands.
The Nunn campaign plan also contains details about messaging, fundraising, staffing, organization, and scheduling that are usually closely held. “All campaigns are kind of chaotic and mistakes happen,” says Bo Moore, the Georgia Republican strategist, of the document’s release online. “It was probably just an innocent mistake of the campaign.”
The document in its entirety can be viewed below.
— Eliana Johnson is a national reporter for National Review Online.
2014 Michelle Nunn Campaign Memo