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Will Senator Tester Return Campaign Donations from Company with Iran Dealings?

3:30 PM, Oct 18, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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Last week, Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., forcefully condemned business that have dealings with Iran. Not surprisingly, Tester used the issue to zero in on Koch Industries. Since the Koch brothers are patrons of many conservative and libertarian causes (at least when the DSCC isn't begging Koch for money themselves), Democrats have tried to make hay out of the company's alleged shady dealings in Iran. Unfortunately, these allegations come from a suspect and untrustworthy Bloomberg Markets report sourced heavily from a disgruntled employee that recently lost a court battle against the company in a French court so decisively she was ordered to pay the Koch's court costs.

However, Tester didn't exactly mince words when attacking Koch Industries, who were specifically mentioned in the first paragraph of the statement on his website -- and the only company singled out in the entire statement, despite the fact that Koch has already voluntarily stopped doing business with Iran. From the statement on his website:

"Iran’s attempt to kill a foreign diplomat here on U.S. soil elevates the Iranian threat to a new level,” Tester said.  “It ought to be clear that no responsible and patriotic American business should be dealing with Iran in any way.  And the U.S. government needs to be doing everything it can to pressure these companies and put the squeeze on Iran.” ...

Iran is subject to broad range of U.S. sanctions that restrict trade and investment, but loopholes remain that allow foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to do business in Iran.  Reports indicate that a Koch Industries subsidiary sold millions of dollars of equipment to Iran’s oil industry.

Tester called the practice ‘unacceptable’ and today asked witnesses whether the United States should require American companies and their subsidiaries to disclose all business activity in Iran.

Senator Tester is fairly unequivocal here. I found this especially curious considering that, since 2009, Tester has taken $9,000 in campaign donations from Honeywell, the New Jersey conglomerate, that is still doing business with Iran. I recently spoke to a spokesman with United for a Nuclear Free Iran that confirmed this was the case. (In Honeywell's defense, it should be noted that there is no reason to suspect the company is doing anything illegal here and many large American corporations currently have dealings with Iran or have in the recent past.)

I contacted Senator Tester's press secretary by both phone and email on Friday to ask if Tester would return Honeywell's money, since he is on record as saying "no responsible and patriotic American business should be dealing with Iran in any way." Since my phone call, and perhaps sensing that he's vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy here, the statement on Tester's website has been toned down considerably. In particular, the quote where Tester says "no responsible and patriotic American business should be dealing with Iran in any way" has been removed. (You can still read the original statement on Tester's Facebook page.)

Tester's office has not responded to my inquiry about returning money from a company he is on record as calling unpatriotic. Criticizing companies that do business with Iran is a perfectly valid concern, but until Tester returns Honeywell's money, his concerns about dealings in Iran seem more motivated by political convenience than a principled position on national security.

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