Fetullah Gulen’s followers have carried out lobbying activities in many countries. They donated for election campaigns and financed all-expense-paid trips to Turkey. The target was mostly politicians through whom Gulenists aimed to extend their influence over decision making processes.
Gulenists have been actively lobbying in the United States. They have made political donations and funded trips for US lawmakers and university professors, students and etc. Their agenda was facilitating and legitimizing the Gulenist agenda, and counteracting any negative publicity about the Gulen charter schools in the US.
A New York Times article explains that dozens of Texans – from state lawmakers to congressional staff members to university professors – have taken trips to Turkey partly financed by the Gulenist foundations. The Raindrop Foundation covered the expenses of State Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s travel to Istanbul in 2010. In January, she co-sponsored a Senate resolution commending Gulen for his ongoing and inspirational contributions to promoting global peace and understanding.
A documentary film called “Killing Ed” on the Gulenist group’s charter schools in the United States exposed a list of high level officials – senators, congressmen, mayors and police officials – who went on a trip to Turkey between 2006 and 2013. The trips, which reportedly cost about $15,000- $30,000 per person, were funded by Gulenist institutions in the US. Among them are The Atlas Foundation of Louisiana, the Raindrop Foundation, the Niagara Foundation, the North Carolina-based Divan Center, the Pacifica Institute.
The group do not always reveal their sponsorship of all-expense-paid trips to Turkey. An office of Congressional Ethics probe in 2015 revealed that the Gulenist funding was carefully concealed in the case of hundreds of trips for members of the US Congress. A USA Today investigation reported on 29 October 2015 that Gulenists secretly and illegally funded “as many as 200 trips to Turkey” for members of Congress since 2008.
Below is a list of Gulenist sponsors for members of US congress based on information from the Legistorm website.
Gulenist foundation the Rumi Forum sponsored the trips below:
The Rumi Forum seems to have spent $73,980 in 2008 alone, yet it declared on its 2008 International Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990 $0 in expenses for “Payments of travel or entertainment expenses for any federal, state or local public officials.” The Rumi Forum also declared $0 in “lobbying” expenses.
An excerpt from Dr Joshua Hendrick’s thesis (2009) is telling of the Rumi Forum’s agenda:
“With modest beginnings in 1999, the Rumi Forum is now a recognized Turkish lobbying organization… Far more than a cultural or religious institution, the Rumi Forum has cultivated relationships with dozens of US congressmen and senators…The Rumi Forum locates sponsors and hosts events that specifically target people of influence in the DC area and among national political representatives.”
Yet, the Rumi Forum denies any activities of lobbying:
Gulenists do not only take congressmen on funded trips, they also take professors, university students and religious officials. For example, the president of Clayton State University Dr Thomas Hynes was taken on a tour in 2011, and his comment on it as follows:
“Yesterday in Ankara was a busy, but a highly informative day. It began with a visit to the Journalists and Writers foundation. That foundation is closely associated with the work of Fetullah Gulen, identified a few years ago in Foreign Policy magazine as one of the 100 leading public intellectuals in the world.”
Likewise, a student named Raleigh Bailey from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is among those who joined on a funded Turkey trip. She explained the funder:
“The North Carolina nonprofit that organized the trip is called ‘The Divan Center.’ …North Carolina has three main clusters of Turkish immigrants who participate in the Hizmet movement through the NC Divan Center.”
Gulenists also made large sums of donations to politicians. For example, Texas Republican Sheila Jackson Lee was given $23,000 in October 2013, which according to the documents filed with the Federal Election Commission made 18 percent of individual contributions given that Jackson Lee raised just more than $130,000 in that cycle.
The donors are mostly those working at Gulen affiliated charter schools and institutions. For example, Erdal Caglar, chief financial officer at Gulen-affiliated Harmony Charter School, gave $1500 to Jackson Lee in October 2013. He said that Jackson Lee was helping Harmony’s effort to open a charter school in Washington, DC. He said: “She has been always a supporter of our schools. She has attended all major events that Harmony organized. As an educator, we support whoever supports our mission and vision and supports our activities.”
Leading figures of the Gulen group deny that there is any top-down organization of the donations, but the patterns of giving suggest some level of coordination in a community beginning to flex its political muscle. Gulen himself reportedly told followers in 2010 that they could only visit him in the Poconos if they donated to their local congressman, according to the Wall Street Journal.