November 16, 2009 / 5:24 AM / 10 years ago

Anti-Castro money shifts to Democrats: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Anti-Castro Cuban-Americans are donating more money to Democratic lawmakers in hopes of blunting momentum in Congress to lift the U.S. trade embargo of the Communist-ruled Caribbean nation, a report said on Monday.

The shift began with the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and picked up speed after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, according to the report by Public Campaign, a non-partisan organization that aims to reduce the role of interest groups in U.S. politics.

The U.S.-Cuba Democracy Public Action Committee (PAC), an anti-Castro group, donated overwhelmingly to Republicans when it was launched in 2004, but in the past year 76 percent of its donations went to Democrats, the report said.

Cuban-American opponents of the Cuban government have donated over $10 million to U.S. political campaigns since 2004, according to the report. It is unclear how much of an overall impact their largess is having on Democrats.

Obama says he wants to “recast” ties with Cuba and has announced a slight relaxation of the five-decades old embargo as well as an effort to reopen dialogue with Havana.

The moves have stoked unease within the anti-Castro Cuban community in the United States, which traditionally has strongly supported the embargo.

But earlier this month 53 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, or about one-fifth of the party’s caucus, signed a letter supporting current U.S. policy toward Cuba, including keeping the embargo in place.

Public Campaign, scouring public records and campaign finance data, found that 51 of those lawmakers had received contributions from U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

The same group also has donated more to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee since New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, became the committee chairman about a year ago, Public Campaign said.

Menendez delayed a major government spending bill this year because he objected to provisions about doing business with Cuba. He is one of the lawmakers who receives the most donations from anti-Castro Cuban-Americans, the report said.

It said the biggest recipient is Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican who was born in Havana. He has received $366,964 since 2004, the report said.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The United States has restricted trade and travel with Cuba since the 1960s in what started as a Cold War policy to isolate Fidel Castro, who took power in 1959 and only stepped down as president last year. Some sanctions have been tightened and others relaxed by various U.S. presidents and Congress.

Democratic Representative Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts has proposed lifting the U.S. ban on travel to the island, and a House committee plans a hearing for Thursday to discuss the idea.

Some polls have said most Americans support the change.

Public Campaign said it worried campaign cash might trump public sentiment on Cuba policy, though it admitted the amounts were small compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions tied to health care legislation.

It named 18 lawmakers that it said got donations from U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC or other “hard-line” Cuban-Americans after apparently shifting their positions on Cuba in favor of the interest group.

Congressional aides said Public Campaign’s report oversimplified some of those lawmakers’ voting records and did not account for other factors in their decision-making.

Delahunt said he hoped campaign money would not decide the fate of his bill. He added that lifting the travel ban would not signal approval of the Cuban government, which is now led by Raul Castro.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, a spokesman for U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, told Reuters the group was not ashamed of trying to shape public policy through contributions to political candidates.

It has learned from the lobbying tactics of pro-Israel groups, unions and corporations in the United States, he said, adding that “we cannot compete with the huge business interests that want to unconditionally do business with the Castro regime.”

Editing by Paul Simao

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