Iran, the NED, and Opposition to the ‘Democracy Fund’

by Jul 2, 2009Foreign Policy0 comments

An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the ABF received $345 million from NED. The number is $345 thousand, and has been corrected below. The NED The National Endowment for Democracy Act (U.S.C. Title 22, Chapter 54, Subchapter II) stipulates that the U.S. Information Agency “shall make an annual grant to the Endowment […]

An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the ABF received $345 million from NED. The number is $345 thousand, and has been corrected below.


The National Endowment for Democracy Act (U.S.C. Title 22, Chapter 54, Subchapter II) stipulates that the U.S. Information Agency “shall make an annual grant to the Endowment to enable the Endowment to carry out its purposes”.

The NED Act also stipulates that the NED “may only provide funding for programs of private sector groups and may not carry out programs directly.” In other words, the U.S. Government doesn’t want to be directly responsible for funding these programs. But it’s okay for the government to fund NED, and then for NED to fund whatever program.

The NED Act also states that “Funds may not be expended, either by the Endowment or by any of its grantees, to finance the campaigns of candidates for public office.”

William Blum, in his book “Rogue State” (p. 181), writes that this section was added “Because of a controversy in 1984–when NED funds were used to aid a Panamanian presidential candidate backed by Manuel Noriega and the CIA”.

He adds, “But the ways to circumvent the spirit of such a prohibition are not difficult to come up with; as with American elections, there’s ‘hard money’ and there’s ‘soft money’.trans

The Chairman of the NED since January is Richard Gephardt, who was first elected to the board of NED in 2004.

The Democracy Fund

In 2007, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which is a recipient of NED funding, wrote a letter objecting to the “Democracy Fund” money being included in the fiscal year 2008 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

The letter, signed by the President of the NIAC, Dr. Trita Parsi and numerous others from various organizations, stated:

We believe this program, intended to aid the cause of democracy in Iran, has failed and has instead invigorated a campaign by conservative regime elements to harass and intimidate those seeking reform and greater openness in Iran. As segments of the U.S. Administration tout regime change, secret State Department ‘democracy promotion’ funding has enabled Iranian authorities to label those supporting reforms or engagement with the West as foreign agents and traitors. Recent detentiosn of Iranian-American scholars, journalists, union leaders, student activists, and others are widely viewed as responses to threats posed by U.S.-funded efforts.

…The fact is, given the current dynamic of conflict between the U.S. and Iranian governments, no organization inside Iran can openly accept funding from the U.S. Government.

The funding “would be better spent on activities ouside Iran”, the letter argued, while recognizing the use and importance of radio and TV broadcasts into Iran, such as via Voice of America’s Persian service.

The Obama administration has budgeted $80 million in financing for the NED for fiscal year 2009, according to the White House website. Another $699 million has been budgeted for broadcasting operations, which would include funding for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) and the Voice of America (VOA).

A draft appropriations bill for 2009 called for $120 million for the NED and included a section for the “democracy fund” “to carry out the provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961”, of which $20 million was to “be made available for programs to promote democracy in Iran and to counter the political influence of the Government of Iran in Lebanon and the West Bank and Gaza”.

This text was never passed, and the appropriations for the Department of State were included in the Omnibus Appropriations Act 2009, which was signed by President Barack Obama and became Public Law 111-8 on March 10. No specific mention of Iran was made.

But that legislation appropriated not $80 million, which is apparently what the White House requested, but $115 million to the NED and more than $808 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) “to carry out the provisions of section 667 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961”.

It also included a section for the “democracy fund” appropriating $116 million “to carry out the provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, of which $74 million would be made available for the State Department’s Human Rights and Democracy Fund.

A draft “Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2010” would set aside $100 million for the NED to be granted by the Department of State.

Appropriations for the “democracy fund” are also included in the text of the proposed legislation, with a proposed $120 million in funding. Of those funds, $70 million would be for the State Department’s Human Rights and Democracy Fund, which in turns grants additional money to the NED.


One recipient of NED funds is the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF).

Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post writes that “there is a connection between the violence in Iran over the past week and the women’s rights movement that has slowly gained strength in Iran over the past several years” with encouragement from anti-regime groups like the ABF.

“Though based outside the country,” Applebaum writes, “the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, founded by a pair of sisters, translates and publishes online fundamental human rights documents; it maintains an online database of the names of thousands of victims of the Islamic Republic as well.”

Some have called the demonstrations in Iran a “Twitter revolution”, “as if zippy new technology alone had inspired the protests. But the truth is that the high turnout has been the result of many years of organizational work, carried out by small groups of civil rights activists and above all women’s groups, working largely unnoticed and without much outside help.”

There’s no mention of the $345 thousand the ABF has received from the NED since 2005, money which is mostly provided by the U.S. government. That’s not insignificant “outside help”. Applebaum noted the ABF is located “outside the country”. That’s true. It’s based in Washington, D.C.

ABF co-founder Ladan Boroumand has rightly criticized the Iranian regime for what she describes as a fraudulent form of “democracy”. “Voters choose,” she has written, “but only among candidates whom the ruling oligarchy has extensively screened and preselected.”

Not unlike elections in the U.S., one might observe.

Boroumand notes the efforts of women activists in Iran to reach out to NGO’s “By painting international human rights NGOs “both within Iran and internationally”, and then observes, “Not surprisingly, the regime is now targeting precisely such networking efforts and the building of the alternative identities that help Iranian dissidents to surmount the sense of isolation that leads to despair and apathy.”

“By painting international human rights NGOs as tools of foreign governments, the Islamic Republic is seeking to cut off Iranian dissidents from the outside world,” she notes.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

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