The dissidents “have not asked anyone in the United States to advocate for them, nor do they have any agents or lobbyists in that country,” said Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman. He said State Department officials had asked U.S. supporters to intervene to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” at the MEK’s Iraqi camp, and noted that more than 100 U.S. lawmakers have co-sponsored legislation to remove the MEK from the terrorist list.
Still, some of the MEK’s prominent surrogates have acknowledged accepting travel expenses from MEK-allied groups as well as speaking fees of $10,000 to $40,000 per engagement. Rendell has acknowledged accepting more than $150,000 in expenses from MEK supporters. Before he began speaking on their behalf, he says, he knew very little about the MEK.
The supporters, some of whom have acknowledged intervening on the MEK’s behalf with U.S. officials, say their motives are humanitarian. They say pro-Iranian elements in the Iraqi government have attacked the group’s followers since U.S. troops who had protected them left Iraq.
“A number of us are working with the State Department to facilitate the removal of the Iranian dissidents” from the MEK’s base in Iraq, Dean said in an e-mail response to a Post query. “Since this is an effort to facilitate U.S. government policy, it does not require any form of registration.”
None of the other participants responded to requests for comment.
Federal lobbying law defines a foreign “agent” as someone who acts “at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal, or of a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in part by a foreign principal.” It covers activities that include acting as a publicity agency or political consultant or representing the interests of the foreign group “before any agency or official of the government of the United States.”
“The only defense would be if you can claim that you’re doing it on your own, unpaid,” said a retired senior U.S. official and expert on lobbying law, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss hypothetical cases covered by the statute. “But if you’re getting money from the same group to make speeches, it’s pretty hard to make the case.”
Although the foreign agents act is often flouted in practice, “the fact that it’s a criminal statute shows how the government regards this kind of activity,” the former official said.
In addition to meeting with the MEK supporters, State Department officials have acknowledged that they have used them to relay messages directly to the MEK leadership to try to resolve what has become a dangerous standoff over the closing of Camp Ashraf, the former Iraqi army base northeast of Baghdad that has served as the group’s home in exile since 1986.