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The U.S. House race in California’s 50th district has gotten nasty.
Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter represents a solidly Republican district, but he was indicted in August for misusing campaign funds. This has given a boost to his previously longshot Democratic challenger, Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is of Palestinian and Mexican ancestry. A recent poll by the independent firm SurveyUSA had Hunter with only a three-point lead.
Hunter has attracted national attention — and criticism — for rhetoric that seeks to paint Campa-Najjar as someone who has ties to Islamist terrorists.
"Ammar Campa-Najjar is working to infiltrate Congress," says one ad by Hunter’s campaign. "He’s used three different names to hide his family’s ties to terrorism. His grandfather masterminded the Munich Olympic massacre. His father said they deserved to die."
The ad then plays video aired by the conservative One America News Network: "A Palestinian-Mexican American doesn’t get his support from the people of San Diego.’ ‘He is being supported by CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood.’ ‘This is a well-orchestrated plan.’" The ad closes, "Ammar Campa-Najjar: A risk we can’t ignore."
The Washington Post Fact Checker looked at various elements of this ad as well as separate remarks delivered by Hunter and gave them a collective Four Pinocchios, the worst possible rating. (Campa-Najjar, for instance, never knew his grandfather, his father’s comment was not that straightforward, and he was raised by his mother’s Mexican-American family.)
Here, we’ll zero in on one particular claim in the advertisement — that Campa-Najjar "is being supported by CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood." CAIR refers to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group whose mission is to "enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.
The assertion about the support for Campa-Najjar’s campaign is not accurate.
Despite Hunter’s continued invocation of radical Islam in the campaign, Campa-Najjar is actually a Christian of long standing.
In a statement provided by Campa-Najjar’s campaign, Mike Meeks, pastor emeritus of EastLake Church, said, "I have known Ammar since he was 16, when he became part of our youth ministry. Before he left for college, he grew up serving our janitorial staff, worship team, and youth ministry, where he even gave Sunday Youth group sermons. When he served in federal government, we talked regularly about life and the faith challenges of following Jesus in today’s world. Through it all, Ammar remains committed to growing in his faith, following Jesus and serving his community."
Campa-Najjar’s campaign said that the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political organization in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, would deem him an apostate due to his Christianity.
Furthermore, neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor CAIR are legally able to support a candidate.
Over the years, the United States’ relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood has ranged from uneasy tolerance to outright opposition.
But whatever the U.S. policy has been, the Muslim Brotherhood is a foreign organization, so as such, the group and its leaders are prohibited by federal law from making "any contribution, expenditure or donation in any U.S. election."
Laws aside, there is no evidence that either group has given money to Campa-Najjar. The most one could say is that a few CAIR volunteers have done so in their personal capacity.
The San Diego Union-Tribune cross-referenced records of donations made to Campa-Najjar with lists of CAIR board members and found that the candidate received 18 donations from seven people totaling $17,300. Through Oct. 31, Campa-Najjar had raised $3,168,975, meaning that the donations from CAIR board members accounted for about one half of 1 percent of his donations this cycle.
"None of the seven donors held paid positions with CAIR, according to public tax reports," the newspaper reported. "Donors listed their primary employers and occupations — their day jobs — to identify themselves to the campaign as required by the FEC."
For instance, the Union-Tribune reached David Chami, an attorney who lives in Arizona and serves on the board of a local CAIR chapter. Chami told the newspaper "that he is not paid by CAIR and that his contribution was independent and based solely on Campa-Najjar’s position on consumer advocacy laws."
He added, "My decision to help a particular candidate is based on their political positions and issues they support. It has nothing to do with religion and if it did, I’m Muslim and he is a Christian."
Robert S. McCaw, the director of government affairs for CAIR, told PolitiFact, "We can confirm that CAIR or its chapters did not donate to or endorse Campa-Najjar. What staff or board members do on their own time is their own business."’
Hunter’s office did not respond to an inquiry.
Hunter said, "Ammar Campa-Najjar is working to infiltrate Congress" and "is being supported by CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood."
Neither group can do so under federal law, and there is no evidence that they have broken the law to donate to his campaign. Campa-Najjar has received more than a dozen personal donations from people who happen to be CAIR volunteers. We could find no connection to the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is an unsubstantiated accusation that rests on fear-mongering. We rate the statement Pants on Fire.
Duncan Hunter, campaign ad, Sept. 26, 2018
CAIR, about us page, accessed Oct. 31, 2018
CAIR, "CAIR at a Glance," accessed Oct. 31, 2018
Britannica.com, Muslim Brotherhood entry, accessed Oct. 31, 2018
OpenSecrets.org, campaign finance data for 2018 U.S. House race for California’s 50th district, accessed Oct. 31, 2018
San Diego Union-Tribune, "Amid attacks by Rep. Hunter, Campa-Najjar and pro-Israeli group say there's no problem with American-Muslim donors," Oct. 19, 2018
Washington Post Fact Checker, "Indicted congressman falsely ties opponent to terrorism," Oct. 1, 2018
Los Angeles Times, "70 national security, foreign policy experts condemn Hunter attack ad," Oct. 3, 2018
NPR, "Rep. Duncan Hunter And His Wife Indicted For Using Campaign Funds For Personal Uses," Aug. 22, 2018
Email interview with Brett G. Kappel, partner in the government affairs and public policy practice at the law firm Akerman, Oct. 31, 2018
Email interview with Robert S. McCaw, the director of government affairs for CAIR. Oct. 31, 2018
Email interview with Nick Singer, director of communications for Ammar Campa-Najjar, Oct. 30, 2018
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