by Eli Clifton
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) is leading the charge in the House of Representatives to derail the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed between the P5+1 and Iran to limit the country’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from nuclear-related sanctions. Royce may have a powerful financial incentive, in the form of tens of thousands of dollars in bundled campaign contributions from a group aligned with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This money would enable him to continue in his role as the House’s leading Iran hawk. Royce’s biggest campaign donor in the current and previous election cycle is NORPAC, a political action committee aligned with AIPAC, which led efforts to kill the nuclear accord.
Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Royce, approved the “Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act,” setting up the first of a series of expected showdowns over attempts to limit the White House’s ability to lift sanctions on Iran.
The legislation would give Congress greater oversight over the rolling back of sanctions. According to administration officials, the bill is an attempt to derail the JCPOA after opponents of the agreement, most of whom were Republican, failed to muster enough votes to block the agreement last year.
Even Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and one of a handful of Democrats who opposed the nuclear agreement, opposed the new legislation, saying, “I believe it doesn’t serve any purpose to have bills like this that are designed to kill the deal.”
The rhetoric from Royce, on the other hand, has only gotten more heated. During a Tuesday appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he blamed Obama for the recent deterioration in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran after the Saudis started the year by executing Shiite leader Sheik Nimr Baqr al-Nimr. “They perceive we have tilted toward Iran and this has created problems in terms of our credibility in the region,” said Royce, who repeated the GOP refrain that the Obama administration is “leading from behind.”
Royce may believe that new legislation designed to constrain the White House’s ability to hold up its obligations under the JCPOA would improve regional stability. But he also has a valuable financial incentive to attack the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy.
NORPAC directed $48,150 to Royce’s campaign committee in the 2014 election cycle (his second biggest donor, General Atomics, contributed $17,800) and $27,588 in the 2016 cycle (his second biggest donor, RIDA Development, contributed $13,500), according to data published by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The bundled campaign contributions might be a drop in the bucket for the AIPAC aligned group—AIPAC reportedly spent nearly $30 million fighting the nuclear deal—but it establishes NORPAC as Royce’s most valuable fundraising ally.
NORPAC’s campaign contributions to Royce might seem generous considering the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman won his 2014 midterm election by more than 30 points. But Royce certainly isn’t turning down NORPAC’s overtures. The group held a fundraiser last month for Royce in Teaneck, NJ, praising the congressman’s role as a “leading voice on Iran sanctions.”
Royce is scheduled to elaborate on his views about the Obama administration’s foreign policy in an event today at the American Enterprise Institute, the locale from which “experts” such as Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Newt Gingrich, Charles Krauthammer, and Ahmed Chalabi made their case for de-Baathification in Iraq in the months leading up to the 2003 invasion.
Royce probably won’t touch on the foreign policy disasters hatched at AEI, or their role in setting the stage for the rise of the Islamic State, just as he probably doesn’t remind his allies at AIPAC that the group pushed for regime change in Iraq. Instead, according to the announcement, he will discuss “how the Islamic State and al-Qaeda can be defeated” and “the importance of American leadership to defend and advance freedom, security, and free markets both at home and abroad.”