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Document Reveals Billionaire Backers Behind United Against Nuclear Iran

A new report has revealed several of the hawkish billionaire funders behind the secretive United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) group.

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Among the many groups engaged in advocacy over a potential deal between Iran and world powers, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) stands apart as by far the most mysterious. Late last month, UANI announced it would launch a “multi-million dollar” ad campaign, noting “a growing concern that U.S. negotiators could be pressured into making dangerous concessions in order to cement a deal,” according to the group’s CEO, Mark Wallace.

As the ad buy suggests, UANI draws on a deep well of resources to fund fretful warnings about the dangers of compromising with Iran’s nuclear negotiators. But, despite piecemeal information unearthed in my previous reporting, a more comprehensive look at UANI’s funding has until now remained obscured by a US government-backed veil of secrecy: the group’s donor rolls were among the documents a plaintiff was seeking in a defamation case against UANI until the Justice Department quashed the suit with an invocation of state secrets.

Now, however, I’ve obtained and reviewed a comprehensive list of UANI’s major donors in UANI’s 2013 tax year, providing some answers about who is backing the group’s efforts.

According to the “Schedule B” filing that tax-exempt nonprofits must submit to the IRS, the top donors to UANI are a pair of trusts associated with the billionaire Thomas Kaplan and a family foundation operated by Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam. Together, the funding associated with Kaplan and Adelson accounted for more than three-quarters of the group’s total revenue of $1.7 million for the 2013 tax year.

As I previously reported for The Nation, Adelson’s family foundation contributed half a million dollars to UANI that year.

Kaplan’s contributions to the anti-Iran group were larger overall—totaling $843,000, around half the UANI’s annual revenue for that tax year—but through two separate trusts managed by his company, named in the schedule B document as The Tigris Group. (Known Kaplan companies include The Tigris Financial Group, The Tigris Group of Companies, and The Electrum Group.) The first, Butterfield Trust, is described in a 2011 Sunshine Silver Mines prospectus as “trustee of a trust primarily for the benefit of members of the family of Dr. Thomas Kaplan.” Butterfield Trust contributed $281,000 to UANI in 2013. The other Kaplan trust, New Generations, gave UANI $562,000, according to the Schedule B.

Lawsuit Against UANI

UANI, an outfit dedicated to promoting and strengthening sanctions and taking a hard line in the current Iran nuclear negotiations, made headlines earlier this year thanks to a bizarre lawsuit. Victor Restis sued UANI for defamation in July 2013 after the group accused him of doing illegal business with Iran, characterizing the Greek shipping magnate and an associate of being “front-men” for the Iranian government.

This past March, the Justice Department succeeded in getting the case dismissed. As part of discovery, the legal term for exchanging documents and information before trial. Restis’s lawyers had asked UANI to produce documents backing up its allegations in court, as well as some general information about the group, including its donor rolls. But the Justice Department shielded UANI from complying with the requests by invoking state secrets. An amicus brief filed by civil liberties groups said the intervention was unprecedented: “Never before has the government sought dismissal of a suit between private parties on state secrets grounds without providing the parties and the public any information about the government’s interest in the case.”

In the fall of 2014, as the case was heating up, UANI released a statement responding to queries raised by Restis’s legal team. The statement claimed that “UANI has never sought or received funds from any foreign individual” and that “UANI has never sought or received funds from any business about which UANI has expressed concerns regarding business with Iran.” The statement added that the group was “unaware of any donor to UANI who even knows Mr. Restis, much less that competes in any way with Mr. Restis’ businesses.” The denials, however, became nearly impossible to confirm when the Justice Department asked a judge to block the case, which could have led to the release of donor information.

“These kinds of financial ties were among what we specifically requested in discovery,” Restis’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, told LobeLog.

“The [new] information only confirms that there is a need to unravel the web of financial and political involvement between this organization and its supporters both in the United States and abroad,” said Lowell. “That is what we are seeking to do in this litigation to create transparency of the many interests involved.”

Pattern of Giving

Both Thomas Kaplan and Sheldon Adelson have family ties to Israel. Adelson gives in concert with his Israeli-born wife, Miriam. “I am not Israeli,” Sheldon Adelson said at a 2010 event, speaking about the founding of Israel Hayom, a right-wing newspaper he owns in Israel. Standing beside Miriam, however, Adelson went on: “All we care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.”

The Kaplan trust New Generations is associated with Kaplan and his wife, Dafna Recanati Kaplan, the daughter of influential Israeli investor Leon Recanati (Leon’s late uncle Raphael, an Israeli-American businessman, was himself a shipping magnate).

Both sets of major donors raise questions about UANI’s professed non-partisanship.

The Adelsons give almost exclusively to the Republican Party, Republican candidates, and right-wing dark money groups; Kaplan gives to both parties, but the sums to Republican affiliates and candidates, between the 2012 election cycle and the present, were higher, at a ratio of roughly 10 to 1. Before the 2012 election, Kaplan contributed $6,200 respectively to the Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Oklahoma Republican parties as well as $30,800 to the Republican National Committee. He also contributed $58,100 to the Romney Victory committee and $100,000 to the Romney-supporting Restore Our Future super PAC. The Adelsons, for their part, were reported to have spent $150 millionto support Republican candidates in the 2012 election and contributed up to $100 million to support Republicans in the 2014 Senate midterms—not to mention a host of right-wing pressure groups that enjoy the Adelsons’ largesse.

Stance on Iran

Both Thomas Kaplan and Sheldon Adelson have made hawkish statements about Iran.

Adelson famously proposed launching a first-strike nuclear attack against Iran to send a message to Tehran’s nuclear negotiators. And Kaplan publicly compared UANI’s effectiveness to advanced weaponry, presumably targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities, during a March 2014 event held in his honor. “United Against Nuclear Iran may not have had Tomahawk missiles and aircraft carriers at its disposal, [but] we’ve done more to bring Iran to heel than any other private sector initiative and most public ones,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan’s business interests also present an interesting angle on his funding anti-Iran advocacy like UANI’s. As I noted in a previous report for Salon, one of Kaplan’s mining concerns, the now-bankrupt Apex Silver Mines, Ltd., advertised itself in an annual report as a sound investment because of the potential for a “nuclear confrontation” with Iran. Likewise with another silver venture called Sunshine Silver Mines: a 2011 investment prospectus talked up silver investments in light of “political unrest in the Middle East.” Amb. Mark Wallace, who had by then already taken the helm at UANI, was overseeing Sunshine under the aegis of the Tigris Financial Group, where Wallace serves as CEO.

At the time the prospectus talked up “political unrest,” three of Kaplan’s companies controlled Sunshine through a 70 percent stake; half of that stake was held by the Butterfield Trust—the same Kaplan trust that gave UANI almost $300,000 in 2013.

Adelson’s family foundation declined to comment on their contribution to UANI. Neither UANI nor Kaplan’s office responded to requests for comment.

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