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Pro-Cuba embargo money flows to lawmakers

Supporters of tough U.S. sanctions against the Cuban government have given more than $10 million to congressional campaigns over the last seven years, according to a study.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Supporters of tough U.S. sanctions against the Cuban government have given more than $10 million to congressional campaigns over the last seven years, according to a study released late Sunday night by a group supporting campaign finance reform.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Public Campaign said the study shows how large sums of money from a small group can influence lawmakers. Public Campaign cites a number of times in which lawmakers changed their position on Cuba-related issues within months of receiving funds from a political action committee that supports the U.S. embargo of the communist island.

Those who back the PAC say they are being unfairly targeted for their passionate views toward their homeland. They note many other groups channel money to politicians who support their views.

"Perhaps it's the age-old story of money and politics, but 18 members switched their votes on the subject, some in very close proximity to when they got donations," said Public Campaign's David Donnelly.

"When an issue is not in the front view like health care, our campaign finance system sets up a situation in which the members are more interested in the money than deciding a rational, reasoned approach to politics, regardless of what the outcome," he added.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the Washington-based director to the PAC, says the group is simply exercising its constitutional right to political participation.

"For some of these folks, it's OK for unions to support pro-labor members. It's OK for trial lawyers to help elect pro-litigators. It's OK for the Jewish community to help elect pro-Israel," Claver-Carone said, adding, "But somehow it's not OK for the Cuban community to help elect members and candidates that help and support conditioning business and tourism with the Castro regime with human rights and democratic reforms."

A ‘lot of baloney’
Like many other interest groups, those who support the U.S. embargo of Cuba have long donated heavily to whichever party is in power and spread the funds among legislators across the country.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who is Cuban-American and staunchly pro-embargo, called the report a "low blow" and a "lot of baloney" from those who oppose the sanctions. Diaz-Balart, who receives thousands of dollars from the PAC, said the number of individual contributions and those to PACs demonstrate the community's continued unity.

Analysts are increasingly calling into question that unity.

Many Cuban-Americans continue to support a ban on tourist travel to the island until political prisoners there are released, free elections are held and independent media is allowed to operate. Younger members of the community and newer arrivals tend to support easing restrictions on travel by Cuban-Americans to visit family, as well as educational and other exchanges.

The study was released as opponents of the U.S. travel ban to the island prepare for congressional hearings this week on the issue.

President Barack Obama has walked a fine line on the issue. He relaxed restrictions on family travel and allowed U.S. scientists to visit the island, but he says he will not call for lifting general sanctions until the Cuban government demonstrates willingness to improve human rights and political freedoms.

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