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Turkey Spends $2.6 Million to Hire Two New Lobbying and PR Firms

By Harut Sassounian
FLArmenians Guest Contributor

Last week, I wrote about a dozen public relations and lobbying firms the Turkish government had already hired. In recent weeks, the Republic of Turkey added two new such firms: Ballard Partners and Burson-Marsteller.

Turkish officials don’t seem to realize that having more than a dozen lobbying firms not only is a waste of money due to unnecessary duplication—it is also a waste of the valuable time of several Turkish Embassy officials in Washington, D.C. These officials have to spend a lot of their time giving detailed instructions to these firms, reading their reports, commenting on them, meeting with them, forwarding their reports to the Foreign Ministry with lengthy explanations, and taking corrective action based on Ankara’s reaction. Unless such an intense and elaborate effort is made in working with so many lobbying firms, Turkish officials are simply wasting their country’s money!

I am happy that the Turkish government has decided to waste more of its money by agreeing to pay Brian Ballard’s firm, Ballard Partners, $1.5 million from May 15 to May 14, 2018. According to Ballard’s registration with the Justice Department, the firm will provide the Turkish government “with advocacy services relative to U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations.” The lobbying activities include “advising, counseling, and assisting [Turkey] in communications with US Government officials. Maintaining U.S. relations with this important NATO partner.”

Brian Ballard is the longtime lobbyist for President Donald Trump as the representative of the Trump Organization in Tallahassee. He raised $16 million for Trump’s presidential campaign while serving as his state finance chairperson and later as vice chairperson of the President’s inaugural committee.

Ballard issued a statement asserting that he “still speaks to Trump on occasion.” Susie Wiles, who was introduced by Ballard to Trump during the campaign, served as Trump’s Florida campaign manager. She is now working for Ballard Partners.

Ballard also hired former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) to be in charge of the Turkish lobbying account. As co-chair of the Congressional Turkey Caucus, Congressman Wexler actively lobbied and voted against a proposed House Armenian Genocide resolution on Oct. 10, 2007. His new job is his reward for staunchly supporting Turkey in Congress for years!

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Ballard’s first interaction with Trump occurred several years ago when he wrote a letter to Trump after reading his book, ‘Trump: The Art of the Deal,’ and Trump answered. Ballard wrote back stating: “if you ever have any issues in Florida, please don’t hesitate to call.” Trump called him after purchasing Mar-a-Largo in 1985, and paid Ballard at least $460,000 from 2013 to 2015 for lobbying work. Trump personally called Ballard asking for his help when he launched his presidential campaign. Ballard is now organizing a fundraising banquet for Trump on June 28. The cost is $35,000 per person and $100,000 to join the host committee.

Ballard makes no secret of his special connections with President Trump. “I would imagine if Hillary Clinton were elected I wouldn’t be here,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. Ballard said, “He doesn’t discuss how he works or his contacts with the president. He’s been spotted at the White House, however, and Trump maintains phone relationships with allies.”

In addition, the Turkish Embassy in Washington signed a contract with Burson-Marsteller for $1.1 million for the period May 1-Dec. 31. Ironically, from 2012 to 2015, Burson-Marsteller was doing lobbying work for the Alliance for Shared Values, a group tied to exiled Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Erdogan opposes and seeks his extradition from the U.S. to Turkey. The Turkish government reportedly threatened Burson-Marsteller’s operations in Turkey if the firm continued to lobby for Gulen.

Burson-Marsteller is supposed to provide “integrated public relations services to support the [Turkish] Embassy’s communications objectives in the United States. Activities include media outreach, monitoring and analysis; event support; stakeholder engagement; social media counsel; and support for Turkish consulates in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York.”

It is noteworthy that despite the millions of dollars spent by Turkey on more than a dozen high-powered lobbying and public relations firms, they could not counter the large number of news articles and wide TV coverage critical of the Turkish government for the attack on peaceful protesters by President Erdogan’s bodyguards in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in D.C., on May 16. This fact reinforces my firm belief that Turkey is wasting millions of dollars annually trying to cleanse its image in the U.S., which is further tarnished by the Turkish government’s brutal policies both at home and abroad.

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City of Tallahassee Planning Commission Mulls Vote on Controversial Charter School with Ties to Turkish Islamic Cleric

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

October 1, 2013

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TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing today on a proposal to build a controversial charter school, Stars Middle School, at 3607 Thomasville Road in Tallahassee, reported FLArmenians.com.  Stars Middle School is part of an international network of Muslim schools operated by the “Gulen Movement,” a reference to the cult-like nature of followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. An Islamic political figure, author and religious scholar, Gulen is a Turkish citizen who has lived in self-imposed exile in the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania since 1998.

Although the process in Tallahassee is currently held up due to the school’s inability to file the necessary paperwork, the current controversy surrounding the city proposal has centered on community concerns of traffic impacts, safety, and city zoning jurisdictions, according to a report by WCTV.  The Planning Commission has received over 200 calls and emails in petition to the proposed school, WCTV says. However, a closer look at the shadowy network reveals a deeper process at play, most likely unknown to Tallahassee city officials or residents.

THE MOVEMENT IN AMERICA

The Gulen movement’s network of schools can be found in a dozen countries across the globe. Here in the United States, the Gulen movement – a network of Turkish and Azerbaijani businessman, scientists, engineers, and Islamic religious figures – has propped up 140 schools in 26 states. Texas tops the list with 40 Gulen-connected schools, followed by Ohio with 30. However, the schools have been had difficulty in some states, such as Arizona and Utah, where financial troubles, shady business dealings, and revelations of genocide denial have prompted citizen advocacy groups, teachers and parents to question their merits.

fethullah gulen

A parent of a student at Sonoran Academy, a Gulen school in Arizona, told the Tucson Weekly, “We found one document, in Turkish, that talks about the purpose of these charter schools,” says the parent. “They refer to them very explicitly as schools (belonging) to their movement. They’re calculating, and they say if they can have something like 600 schools, then every year, they can produce 120,000 sympathizers for Turkey.”

“I sent my kids to this school because I wanted them to meet regular Muslims and to see them as ordinary people,” she says. “But when I find that my kids are to be turned into genocide-deniers, that’s very disturbing to me,” the parent told Tucson Weekly.

The parent, who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, was referencing the 1915 Ottoman Turkish Genocide of 1.5 million Christian Armenians in World War I. Over 20 countries and 43 U.S. states recognize the Armenian Genocide, as does a host of respected historians, such as the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the ultimate academic authority on the Holocaust and genocide.

In Utah, Beehive Science & Technology charter school faced multiple issues. Muhammet “Frank” Erdogan, a Muslim from Azerbaijan and the principal of Beehive, was the center of controversy when he “questioned conventional accounts” of the Holocaust and fired a teacher for not revising the lesson plan on World War II, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Beehive was ultimately shut down because it “continuously failed to meet ‘accepted standards of fiscal management,’” according to the Desert News. “This is a case of chronic business mismanagement,” Brian Allen, chairman of the Utah State Charter School Board told the Desert News, after the school lost thousands of dollars.

One of the main problems is that the Gulen schools are funded by U.S. taxpayers, to the tune of millions of dollars in some states. Furthermore, the Gulen schools spend those American tax dollars to bring teachers over from Turkey, paying all legal and immigration costs, as well as their salaries. Even when American teachers are hired, they are typically paid less than their Turkish counterparts.

Florida has its history with Gulen schools too. Last year, Daily Broward reported that Riverside Science Academy had hired Broward County Democratic Party Chairman Mitchell Caesar to lobby the Broward County School Board on its behalf. The proposal for Riverside Science Academy in Margate did not materialize, as the necessary paperwork was also not filed in time.

Gulen Protest PA.jpg

The Gulen network’s rise has caught the attention of federal authorities as well. In 2011, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the charter school network and their leader, Fethullah Gulen, were under federal investigation by the FBI and Department of Labor. Although he resides in Pennsylvania, citizens there have pushed back as well. In July of this year, locals held a protest in Saylorsburg, PA to “Stop the World’s Most Dangerous Islamist.” Another slogan of the protest reads “Stop Cheating of American Taxpayers.”

“I’d be shocked if Floridians knew the true intentions behind these schools and willingly opened their wallets to pay for their construction and for non-U.S. citizens to come to America and teach Holocaust denial to our kids,” stated Margaret Atayants, FLArmenians Tallahassee Officer.

TALLAHASSEE PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING TONIGHT 

The Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Commission hearing is set to take place today, October 1, 2013, at 6:00 PM at Tallahassee City Hall, Second Floor. The proposal for Stars Middle School, Ordinance Number 13-Z-26, is scheduled for debate this evening, according to the Commission’s website. The website also includes a recommendation below the proposal to adopt the ordinance and approve building the Gulen school in Tallahassee. However, a spokesman for the Commission informed FLArmenians on the morning of the hearing that debate on this issue has been continued to the November 5th meeting.

***UPDATE –  The Tallahassee Planning Commission continued debate on the ordinance to the following meeting on Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 6:00 PM. The status of the ordinance is not yet clear. However, the recommendation to adopt the proposal has been removed from the Commission’s website.

Floridians are encouraged to call and/or email the Tallahassee City Planning Commission, as well as Tallahassee Mayor John Brooks, and voice their opposition to “Ordinance Number 13-Z-27,” a proposal to build the Gulen-linked Stars Middle School in Tallahassee.

OPPOSE ORDINANCE NO. 13-Z-27

City of Tallahassee Planning Commission

–       Call (850) 891-6400 and/or Email by clicking here.

Tallahassee Mayor John Brooks

–       Call (850) 891-8181 and/or Email by clicking here.

Florida’s tax dollars need to be spent wisely, not on mysterious charter schools run by an Islamic cleric in Pennsylvania. There are plenty of qualified teachers here in Florida.

This story was updated at 12:25 PM on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 to reflect the postponement of the hearing.

Mysterious Muslim Charter School Hires Broward Democrat Chairman As Lobbyist

By Red Broward

A proposed Broward charter school with ties to Fethullah Gulen, the mysterious Islamic cleric, hired Broward Democrat Chairman Mitchell Ceasar as its lobbyist before the Broward County School Board. Known as “Gulen Schools,” followers of Gulen have built thousands of charter schools all over the world. Last May, CBS News 60 Minutes television program documented the growing Gulen school movement in the United States. 60 Minutes said Gulen, living in seclusion in the Poconos mountains, appears only via video webcasts. Gulen, a Turkish citizen, was accused of treason by calling for an Islamic coup of the Turkish government. The report mentioned classified emails released by Wikileaks which disclosed some in the Turkish government see Gulen as a “political leader such as Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.”

Fetullah Gulen

The 60 Minutes report covered accusations that Gulen schools abuse U.S. immigration laws by bringing in thousands of Turkish citizens to teach math and science at the charter schools. An official with a Texas charter school group called the claim “not sure” saying Turkish citizens are brought over because of a lack of “qualified” American teachers. But 60 Minutes found that visa applications for Gulen teachers listed them as “English teachers.” Oops! Some American teachers claim Gulen teachers are forced to give a portion of their salaries back to the Gulen movement.

Paging the Broward Teachers Union!

Dating back to 2007, Gulen followers, under the name of Riverside Science Inc., have been trying to open a charter school in Broward County. Their first try, Riverside Science Academy, failed after school officials were unable to secure a lease.  Just before the start of the 2012-13 school year, the group’s second try, “Broward Math And Science School,” was denied the right to open a Margate campus. CBS 4 News reported, “The district said each school failed to submit documentation of certain provisions they had to meet before the July 20th deadline. The schools in question were given several reminders of the deadline and notified that ‘Failure to provide the required documents within the specific timeframe terminated the charter agreement.’”

So like any other business seeking government influence, Riverside Science Inc. decided they needed a lobbyist. According to Broward Schools lobbyist records, the group hired Mitchell Ceasar in December 2012.

Caesar, a Plantation attorney, is also the chairman of the Broward Democrat Executive Committee.

Sure, local Republicans and Tea Party groups will be quick to blast Caesar for helping the controversial Gulen followers. However, even liberals may find fault with the Gulen schools.

The New York Times reported on State of Georgia audits which found Gulen charter schools funneled money and contracts to other Gulen followers. “The audit, released Tuesday by the Fulton County Schools near Atlanta, found the schools made purchases like T-shirts, teacher training and video production services from organizations with connections to school officials or Gulen followers. Those included more than $500,000 in contracts since January 2010 with the Grace Institute, a foundation whose board has included school leaders. In some cases the awards skirted bidding requirements, the audit said.”

Why is Mitch Caesar so eager to help followers of a shadowy Muslim cleric funnel taxpayer dollars to Turkey and who knows where? Broward school dollars should be spent in Broward, not in the Poconos mountains or Turkey.

This story originally appeared on The Daily Broward and is reprinted with the permission of the author.