Michael Rubin: Taking Money from Mujahedin-e-Khalq should be a presidential disqualifier

The Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO) is a cult. Indeed, its top foreign affairs representative has been unable or unwilling to name a single subject of internal dissent over the past three decades, a strange inability given his claims that the group is democratic.

The group and the shell "community organizations" it creates to funnel cash to American and European politicos also refuse to open their books, raising questions about the origins of their money. This should raise a number of questions for any recipients of MKO largesse.

Is the group a political Ponzi scheme?

Its leader Maryam Rajavi lives in luxury, as do many of her top aides, yet the group refuses the basic transparency demanded of non-profits. In order to suggest grassroots support, the National Council of Resistance of Iran established 40 geographical front groups in the United States linked together by the umbrella Organization of Iranian American Communities. Some of these include supposed local groups like the Iranian American Community of Northern California, the Iranian-American Community of Maryland, and the Iranian-American Community of North Texas.

None of these supposedly independent organizations file Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990s, mandatory for most non-profits with gross receipts greater than $50,000. Such 990s list expenditures, income, and salaries for key employees. The U.S. Representative Office of National Council of Resistance of Iran which says it is "registered as a non-profit entity in Washington, DC" also has no 990 filed.

The tax forms for the Organization of Iranian-American Communities are available, but are strange: All income comes from donations. Expenditures are for advertising, office expenses (even though the group lists no salaried employees) and travel. There is no expenditure lists for conferences or meetings.

What fails the smell test is that these groups, that these community organizations with no paid staff, no events of their own, and little income seem to provide honoraria or political donations in excess of their total budgets. The normal donation for former American officials speaking at the MKO’s annual rallies in Paris or Albania is around $50,000, quite a haul for a five-minute speech.

This should raise red flags. What makes matters worse is the possibility that MKO opacity hides foreign funding. The MKO likes to brag that its intelligence coups — most famously exposure of the covert Natanz enrichment facility two decades ago — show that it has deep roots in Iranian society.

The reality is that MKO intelligence is as often demonstrably wrong. This raises another possibility: foreign intelligence organizations like those of Israel and Saudi Arabia launder their own theories and revelations through the MKO in order to protect their own assets and ensure plausible deniability. This in turn raises the possibility that the funding MKO-affiliated groups channel to American officials come from outside the U.S.

If a speaking fee is too good to be true, it probably is. MKO donations have become a barometer of Washington corruption. Given the MKO’s financial opacity, its cult-like nature, its history of terrorism to include the murder of Americans, its previous alliance with Saddam Hussein, and its refusal to come clean on any of these, it is time to state the obvious: To take any funding or donations from the MKO, National Council of Resistance of Iran, the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, or any of its local shells should be a disqualifier for higher office.