Schumer Names Democrat Donor to Replace His Appointee on US Religious Freedom Agency

December 21, 2019 Updated: December 31, 2019

WASHINGTON—Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) named New York Rabbi and active Democrat donor Sharon Kleinbaum to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to replace a commissioner who was recently indicted.

We welcome the appointment of Rabbi Kleinbaum to USCIRF,” said USCIRF Chairman Tony Perkins in a Dec. 19 statement. Perkins, who is president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, was appointed to the commission by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“Rabbi Kleinbaum is a widely recognized leader in both faith and politics, which will make her a great asset in the complex environment in which we advocate for communities and individuals around the world who are discriminated against or persecuted for their beliefs,” Perkins said.

Kleinbaum is the long-time spiritual leader of New York City’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, and a commissioner on New York City’s Commission on Human Rights. She is also an adviser to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on faith-related issues, according to the USCIRF.

She is the ninth commissioner on the USCIRF, replacing Andy Khawaja, founder and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles-based online processing firm Allied Wallet Inc.

Khawaja, a Lebanese-American businessman who also was a Schumer appointee, was indicted Dec. 3 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) along with seven other individuals in a conspiracy to channel $3.5 million in illegal campaign contributions to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The funds came from an unnamed foreign entity, according to the DOJ.

“The 53-count indictment charges Khawaja with two counts of conspiracy, three counts of making conduit contributions, three counts of causing excessive contributions, 13 counts of making false statements, 13 counts of causing false records to be filed, and one count of obstruction of a federal grand jury investigation.”

“According to the indictment, from March 2016 through January 2017, Khawaja conspired … to conceal the source of more than $3.5 million in campaign contributions, directed to political committees associated with a candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 election,” the DOJ stated.

Kleinbaum is an active Democratic donor, having contributed nearly $17,000 to Democratic candidates and committees between 2015 and 2018, according to a search of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) individual contributor database.

Almost $15,000 of Kleinbaum’s contributions during that period went to the Hillary for America and Hillary Victory Fund. No Kleinbaum contributions appeared in FEC data for 2019.

Kleinbaum’s photograph and biography appear on the USCIRF website. While Khawaja’s photograph and biography remained on the commission’s site after his indictment, they were replaced when Kleinbaum’s appointment was announced.

The USCIRF was established in 1998 to monitor “the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad—not in the United States—using international standards to do so,” according to the commission’s website.

The commission “makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and Congressional leaders of both political parties. While USCIRF is separate from the State Department, the Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom is a non-voting ex officio Commissioner.”

The commission’s most recent report focused on the use of Islamic Shariah Law in three Nigerian states.

“It is unnerving to learn of the latitude of authority given to hisbah groups [Islamic religious police that exist in some parts of Nigeria], the lack of protection against discrimination, the prevalence of flogging as a punishment, and the great need for stronger oversight and human rights training for justice and security personnel,” Perkins said in a Dec. 10 statement.

The commission was reauthorized for three years this week by Congress and the provision is headed to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature. The annual budget for the USCIRF is $3.5 million, with a professional staff of 18 in addition to the nine commissioners.

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