Iranian Americans set up pro-nuke deal lobby
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Iranian Americans set up pro-nuke deal lobby

Advocacy group will ‘maximize community’s political influence at the most high-stakes moment in US-Iran relations in a generation’

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

NIAC Action executive director Jamal Abdi (YouTube screen capture/Russia Today)
NIAC Action executive director Jamal Abdi (YouTube screen capture/Russia Today)

WASHINGTON — An Iranian-American group that has been at the forefront of organizations advocating a nuclear deal with Iran announced Monday that it was launching a separate lobbying organization to increase its impact in Washington.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) unveiled NIAC Action, an organization that will hold a 501(c)(4) tax status, allowing it to engage in explicitly political activity.

NIAC Action’s executive director Jamal Abdi wrote to potential donors that the move was designed “to maximize our community’s political influence at the most high-stakes moment in US-Iran relations in a generation.”

In his letter, Abdi tied the organization’s formation to the nuclear talks currently underway in Vienna, which are likely to extend beyond the original June 30 deadline. Since the nuclear talks began between the P5+1 member states and Iran in late 2013, NIAC has been an enthusiastic proponent of reaching a nuclear agreement and lifting nuclear-related sanctions against Tehran.

“Our community needs to be better equipped to win the high stakes battle underway that will decide between war and peace between the US and Iran, and to do so against well-funded political interests who are investing millions in killing an Iran deal,” wrote Abdi Monday. “As the saying goes, you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.”

The NIAC’s position has led it to face off against groups skeptical of a potential deal, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). At the same time, its advocacy has frequently overlapped with J Street and Americans for Peace Now. In April, J Street, the Arab American Institute (AAI), and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) jointly issued a statement congratulating the Obama administration on the framework for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 states.

As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the NIAC enjoys a tax-exempt status but also faces serious legal restrictions on its ability to influence politics. In contrast, a 501(c)(4) — which is typically referred to as a “social welfare” group — can participate in politics as long as less than 50 percent of its money is spent toward political goals.

SuperPACs (political action committees) face still less restriction on political activities, but unlike those holding the status known in brief as “C4s,” SuperPacs must disclose the sources of their donations. In contrast, 501(c)(4) organizations are not required to publicly reveal their contributors.

Organizers say NIAC Action will be “committed to protecting a nuclear deal, strengthening diplomacy and advancing peace between the US and Iran through civic action, direct lobbying, and political mobilization.”

In an opening press release, Abdi described the establishment of the new group as “the next step in our political journey.

“No community has been impacted more by the US-Iran standoff than Iranian Americans and we’re ready to put our talents and resources behind a historic opportunity for peace,” he continued.

The organization will engage in both direct lobbying and grassroots action, and is likely to endorse political candidates in key districts during the upcoming 2016 election season. It will set up some 30 grassroots chapters “to ensure Congress hears the overwhelming public support for a nuclear deal and opposition to war with Iran.”

While the NIAC has launched letter-writing campaigns and advocacy in support of a deal in recent months, the organization is expected to kick up its activity in Washington if and when the P5+1 member states reach a deal with Tehran. NIAC supporters will then focus their advocacy on pushing Congress to accept the terms of any agreement during the legally mandated review period.

The NIAC says that its current supporters give an average of over $1.4 million to political candidates per two-year election cycle — a relatively small amount in the high-stakes, high-sum matches that have characterized recent elections. Official endorsements and the ability to engage in fundraising, however, are likely to help focus that donor base.

“Winning this fight against powerful interests who have dominated Washington for too long is going to take resources,” Abdi wrote to supporters.

NIAC president and founder Trita Parsi is currently in Vienna to offer his support for a nuclear deal on the sidelines of the official talks.

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