David Dodd 1:48 a.m., May 18
Columnist Vows to Return Speaking Fee to Controversial Iranian Group Backed by Filner
Earlier this week, syndicated columnist Clarence Page told the online news site ProPublica that he was returning a $20,000 speaking fee, along with travel expense reimbursements he had received for addressing a June 23 rally in Paris on behalf of the Mujahadin-e Khalq, or MEK, a controversial group of Iranians that has been lobbying for years to be taken off the U.S. State Department's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.
“I thought they were simply a group of Iranian exiles who were opposed to the regime in Tehran,” ProPublica quoted Page as saying.
“I later found out they can be construed as a MEK front group, and I don’t think it’s worth it to my reputation to be perceived as a paid spokesman for any political cause.”
ProPublica said Page said he had attended the event on "vacation time" and "has not yet given back the money. He did not have the text of the speech he delivered, but he told ProPublica he spoke in favor of the MEK being removed from the list of terrorist organizations, a move he expects to occur shortly."
A member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, Page acknowledged he hadn't given much thought to the appearance, which was booked through a speakers agency. "When I got involved with it, I saw the stellar list of VIPs who were also on the program, and I saw this to be another conference with another speech."
According to ProPublica's account, other U.S. politicos at the event included Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, former Bush administration official John Bolton, and several ex-military officers.
"The MEK, which fiercely opposes the current regime in Iran, has mounted a high-priced lobbying and legal battle to get off the terrorist list in recent years," noted ProPublica.
"The group was placed on the list in 1997 by the Clinton Administration, which cited its record of attacks against Iranian targets. The group also 'assassinated several U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians working on defense projects in Tehran' in the 1970s when the U.S. was allied with the Shah, according to the State Department.
"The MEK says it has renounced violence. A federal appeals court last month ordered the State Department to decide within four months whether the MEK should remain on the list."
As we've previously reported, Democratic congressman Bob Filner, now running for San Diego mayor against GOP city councilman Carl DeMaio, received free airfare and lodging to attend last year's June MEK-related event in Paris, courtesy of what his trip disclosure report said was a group of Iranian-Americans in Colorado.
The purpose of the free trip was said by Filner's filing to be attendance at a "Grand meeting of Iranians in support of human rights and democracy for Iran." Filner's disclosure said he also "met with women’s right and religious right leaders.” Total transportation costs for the journey, including first class commercial airfare, were reported as $4,203.77. Total lodging costs were said to be $2,385.85.
A longtime MEK backer, Filner also attended a MEK-related Paris event in June 2007. He reported that the Colorado Iranian-American group had also picked up the $7,949 tab for that trip.
"The Iranian Resistance has brought the world to a true understanding of the Iranian regime," Filner told the rally, according to a transcript. "We have seen reports of what the regime is doing now [in Iran]; we have seen pictures of violence. The world is coming to understand this Iranian regime, and the world will rejoice when you end this menace."
The same month he went to Paris, Filner and then-GOP congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Times in which they urged then-Secretary of State Condi Rice to lift the terrorist label from the MEK.
"From its base in Iraq, where 3,800 MEK members live under the protection of coalition forces, the organization has provided intelligence on Iran's support for terrorism in Iraq," the pair wrote. "Listing the MEK as 'terrorists' is both an injustice and manifestly contrary to U.S. interests."
Filner's congressional spokeswoman has not responded to inquiries made by telephone regarding the congressman's Paris travel or his MEK support.