Right-wing media falsely declares Imam's Middle East trip a “taxpayer-funded fundraising jaunt”

The right-wing media is attacking Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's upcoming State Department trip to the Middle East to “discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance,” by falsely claiming he will use the trip as a “taxpayer-funded fundraising jaunt” to finance construction of his Islamic cultural center in New York City. In fact, the State Department has made clear that fundraising of any kind is prohibited during the trip, and Rauf has previously participated in this program, first under President Bush.

Right-wing media baselessly fearmongers about Rauf's “taxpayer-funded fundraising jaunt”

Forbes' Claudia Rosett baselessly speculates that it may not be “coincidence” that Rauf “will spend the rest of the summer touring some of the petro-dollar capitals of the planet.” In an August 6 Forbes column, Claudia Rosett reported on Rauf's upcoming trip, and said, “All this comes at a moment when Rauf and his partners in New York are preparing to raise $100 million to build a 13-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero.” Rosett later wrote: “Perhaps it's coincidence that instead of haggling over financing in New York, Rauf--Imam Feisal, to his followers--will spend the rest of the summer touring some of the petro-dollar capitals of the planet, including such fonts of potential funding as Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.” Rosett wrote that the Executive Director of the Park 51 project, Daisy Khan denied that fundraising will take place, but asked “What does that actually mean? Fundraising, especially in the bargaining halls of the Middle East, does not always consist of a brusque pitch and immediate handshake.”

Washington Times: “U.S. underwrites fundraising tour for Islamic shrine at Ground Zero.” In an August 10 editorial, the Washington Times called Rauf's upcoming State Department trip a “fundraising tour for Islamic shrine at Ground Zero” and claimed “important questions are being raised about whether [the Middle East trip] is simply a taxpayer-funded fundraising jaunt to underwrite his reviled project, which is moving ahead in Lower Manhattan.” The editorial concluded by baselessly claiming:

The State Department is either wittingly or unwittingly using tax money to support Mr. Rauf's efforts to realize his dream of a supersized mosque blocks away from the sacred ground of the former World Trade Center, which was destroyed by Islamic fanaticism. This ill-considered decision will raise the ire of millions of Americans and illustrates the limits of what the denizens of Foggy Bottom know about diplomacy.

Fox & Friends: "[C]ritics say it's a fundraising mission, why wouldn't he put his hand out?" On the August 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said: “We just told you how the State Department is funding a trip for the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque to take a goodwill mission to the Middle East. However, critics say it's a fundraising mission. Why wouldn't he put his hand out?”

Atlas Shrugs: “State Department Bankrolls Ground Zero Imam Rauf's Middle East Fundraising Tour.” In an August 10 Atlas Shrugs post, Pamela Geller wrote, “Yesterday, we learned that the dishonest Imam Rauf was in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar for Ground Zero mosque money here. He was not accompanied by his waiter. Today we learn that he was traveling on your dime.”(emphasis in original)

National Review: “Strong evidence that...the State Department is effectively paying for him to raise funds for the Ground Zero mosque project.” In an August 11 National Review Online blog, Andy McCarthy posted parts of the Times' editorial, and claimed:

It is all worth reading, including the first part, which deals with the strong evidence that, in funding Imam Feisal Rauf's sojourn to the Arabian Peninsula, the State Department is effectively paying for him to raise funds for the Ground Zero mosque project -- broadly opposed by Americans who are also being kept in the dark about its financing.

In fact, Rauf began participating in the program under Bush, and all fundraising activities are prohibited

Assistant Sec. of State Crowley: Rauf is aware of the “prohibition against fundraising while on a speaking tour.” In an August 10 press briefing, Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley addressed allegations that Rauf will use the trip to raise funds for Park 51, specifically noting that there is a “prohibition against fundraising while on a speaking tour,” a policy of which they have informed Rauf. From the press briefing:

QUESTION: On the issue of the Imam from the Ground Zero Mosque - there was some discussion yesterday - do you have any update on that, the ground rules of the trip, the relationship to fund-raising which some have raised, and anything on the places he's going?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, Imam Feisal will be traveling to Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE on a U.S. Government-sponsored trip to the Middle East. He will discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance. This is part of a program - and yesterday, I actually was in error. I attributed it to our ECA Bureau, Education and Cultural Affairs. It's actually our International Information Programs - IIP, our office that handles this particular program.

We have about 1,200 of these kinds of programs every year, sending experts on all fields overseas. Last year, we had 52 trips that were specifically focused on religious - promoting religious tolerance. We will expect to have roughly the same number of programs this year. For Imam Feisal, this will be his third trip under this program. In 2007, he visited Bahrain, Morocco, the UAE and Qatar. And earlier this year in January, he also visited Egypt. So we have a long-term relationship with him. His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it's like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States. And our discussions with him about taking this trip preceded the current debate in New York over the center.

QUESTION: And the fundraising issue?

MR. CROWLEY: It is something that we have talked to him about and we have informed him about our prohibition against fundraising while on a speaking tour. We do not expect him to fundraise.

Program is geared towards “promoting religious tolerance” and “bring[ing] a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on” being “Muslim in the United States.” Crowley also addressed the program in which Rauf would be participating, noting that its purpose is to promote “religious tolerance” and provide Muslim countries with a “moderate perspective” of being “Muslim in the United States.” The State Department describes the program as promoting a “citizen dialogue,” in which, “Americans, representing all religious backgrounds, travel overseas to share their experience of living in the United States and to highlight the contributions of Islam and other religions to American society.”

Contrary to conservative claims, Rauf will only be traveling to three countries, not five, and will not be visiting Saudi Arabia. Several right-wing media figures have claimed that Rauf will be traveling to five Arab countries during his State Department trip, including travel to Saudi Arabia. In fact, according to Crowley, Rauf's trip is limited to Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE.

Rauf has been participating in the program since the Bush administration. Crowley also reported that Rauf has been a representative of the International Information Program since 2007:

QUESTION: Wait, you said that his first trip under this program was in 2007?

MR. CROWLEY: That is my understanding.

QUESTION: Who was President then? Can you remind me?

MR. CROWLEY: I believe it was George W. Bush.

State Department official confirms “fundraising and business activities” are prohibited during program trips. In a conversation with Media Matters, Paul Denig, the Director of the Office of U.S. Speaker and Specialist Programs explained that the International Information Program sponsors about 1,200 programs per year. Denig further explained that the program sponsors citizens “who represent a broad range of responsible and informed opinions.” Denig also confirmed that “all fundraising and business activities” are prohibited during trips.