Supporters of the U.S. embargo against Cuba have contributed almost $11 million to members of Congress since 2004 in a largely successful effort to block efforts to weaken sanctions against the island, a new report shows.
In several cases, according to the report by the nonpartisan group Public Campaign, members of Congress who had supported easing sanctions against Cuba changed their positions -- and then got donations from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee and its donors.
All told, the political action committee that champions the embargo and its contributors have given $10.77 million nationwide to almost 400 candidates and members of Congress, the report says.
The top five recipients of the cash: Miami's three Cuban-American Republican members of Congress; 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain; and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, whose parents fled Cuba before his birth.
A spokesman for Menendez said the senator "has held his principled views on Cuba since long before he came to Congress and long before this PAC was created. The PAC has the freedom to contribute to whomever it wants, but that has no bearing on the senator's positions."
He noted that if Public Campaign "truly wants to inform the public, they ought to include in their report all of the contributions from corporations and organizations that oppose the embargo. It would not amount to chump change.
"While groups like this are all worried about legal campaign contributions, under the law in a democracy, they seem to be uninterested in freedom, democracy and human rights in Cuba."
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, is the sixth top recipient of contributions from the PAC and its donors, receiving $155,149. A spokesman said Nelson, who generally sides with the PAC, "believes we must have zero tolerance for repressive regimes like the Cuban government.''
Weston Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has received $75,700 from the PAC and donors, noted that "just last week, the leading blogger in Cuba, critical of the government, was abducted and severely beaten.
"A relationship with the United States needs to be earned, not given away, and that was my feeling and has been reflected in my voting record long before I ever received any political support from people who share my views,'' she said.
A spokesman for Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, who ranks eighth on the list of top recipients, said Meek's position on Cuba was "informed by a lifetime of living alongside an exile community who experienced dictatorship rule firsthand.
"When you are intimately aware of the life stories of political prisoners and dissidents who were deprived of freedom … that is what shapes public policy decisions.''