January 30, 2020
On September 4, 2018, a man named Ömer Adsız gave four large contributions to the Republican National Committee, one to the committee’s main fund and the rest to three different RNC expense accounts. In total, Adsız’s donations added up to the eyebrow-raising sum of $250,000, all given to the RNC in a single day. These contributions placed Adsız in an elite category: He is one of less than 50 donors who gave maxed-out contributions to multiple RNC accounts during the 2018 election. Given the unusual circumstances surrounding these contributions, the RNC should follow past precedent and refund the contributions or, at the least, conduct a thorough investigation into the money’s origins.
Adsız, whose surname literally means “anonymous” in Turkish, has a very unusual profile for such a large political donor. Prior to these donations, he did not have a history of making any major political contributions. His source of income was unclear at the time he gave the money, having left his most recent publicly known job in 2016. Instead, in statements filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2018, Adsız listed himself as the president and founder of a mysterious limited liability corporation with no publicly traceable record of commercial activities.
Adsız does have one notable connection to a monied interest, however: He is a longtime associate of the Gülen movement, a political and religious network led by exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has been accused of plotting to overthrow the Turkish government. While it’s not clear whether Adsiz’s Gülenist ties were the impetus for his sudden political generosity, he adds to a growing trend, reported on by CREW and others, of individuals with deep foreign ties who appear to be ramping up their involvement in politics via large, first-time political contributions made during the Trump administration.
A longtime Gülen affiliate
Who is Ömer Adsız? Publicly available information paints a fairly comprehensive picture. According to one biographical web page, Adsız was born in Turkey in 1979. After going to school in Turkey, he pursued his postgraduate education in the United States, receiving masters’ degrees in finance and international commercial law from universities in New York and Philadelphia. Adsız’s bio goes on to state that he worked as a lawyer in New York from 2007 to 2010, during which time he was a member of several Turkish-American professional associations based in the city. He joined SOCAR, the national energy company of Azerbaijan, as a legal advisor in 2011. (Petkim, the Turkish company whose website hosts Adsız’s biography, is a subsidiary of SOCAR.)
By 2016, Adsız had risen through SOCAR’s ranks to become director of public relations at its Turkish branch. That year, however, his career took a sharp turn for the worse. On July 15, 2016, a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces violently attempted to seize power from the country’s government. Following this coup attempt’s failure, the Turkish government accused the Gülen network of organizing the insurrection and initiated a harsh crackdown against the movement.
Soon after, Adsız resigned from his position at SOCAR. According to Turkish and Azeri news reports, his resignation was part of a wave of dismissals of employees from the company who were said to be linked to the Gülen movement. This would seem to indicate, in other words, that Adsız was a Gülenist.
Campaign records on file with the Federal Election Commission seem to support that allegation. In 2006, Adsız made two modest contributions totalling $630 to the reelection campaign of then-Senator Hillary Clinton—for whom he also apparently volunteered, according to one Turkish press report. On the campaign’s filings, Adsız listed himself as a “public relations coordinator” working at the Golden Meadow Cultural Foundation, a Gülenist organization active in Long Island at the time that promoted Turkish culture in the region, built connections with local politicians, and occasionally raised awareness of Fethullah Gülen’s religious teachings. In 2005, an article posted on Gülen’s website praised the foundation for hosting a Ramadan event in which the local county executive gave a speech “showing how he had been greatly affected by Fethullah Gülen’s ideas.” The Golden Meadow Cultural Foundation shut down in 2007, not long after producing a promotional video that features several photographs of Adsız representing the organization alongside various local and national politicians.
(All of this assumes, of course, that the Ömer Adsız listed in FEC records is the same person described above.)
A $250,000 contribution: How and why?
An extremely small number of people in America make six-figure political contributions. Many of those who do have long standing business interests, partisan histories, or both, and they benefit from the access they get as major donors. Adsız, who had no known significant corporate interests or partisan affiliation in 2018, stands out as an exception.
While Adsız held various corporate positions prior to 2016, his current sources of income, if any, are unclear. When disclosing his occupation and employer to the FEC last year, Adsız described himself as the “president/founder” of “Mr. Global Consulting, LLC,” a company with no publicly viewable activities. (Listing seemingly nonexistent or difficult-to-trace employers is a tactic that has previously been used by Gulen-tied campaign donors.) The LLC’s minimal paper trail indicates that it was formed in February 2017. Adsız’s LinkedIn page, possibly out of date, states that he is a self-employed attorney.
In July of last year, weeks before Adsız made his contributions, another company called Manhattan Tours LLC was incorporated under his name. According to its website, the company offers bicycle rentals in Manhattan.
In October, Adsız incorporated another limited liability corporation called “Washington Development Group”—a name strikingly similar to that of Washington Diplomacy Group, a prominent Gülenist lobbying organization. Like Mr. Global Consulting, this new company has little to no paper trail.
The Gülen movement, whether or not it is what’s driving Adsız’s explosion in donations, has a clear stake in influencing American politics. The extradition of Fethullah Gülen from the United States, where he has lived since 1999, to Turkey is a core issue in U.S.-Turkish relations. Since late 2015, the Turkish government has paid the Washington D.C. law firm Amsterdam & Partners a total of $2,250,000 to wage a public relations and lobbying campaign against Gülen. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s alleged covert influence campaign on behalf of Turkey in 2016 largely focused on Gülen’s extradition as well. Rudy Giuliani, now the president’s personal lawyer, also reportedly lobbied the president on Gülen’s extradition in 2017, while he was representing a client close to the Turkish government.
Meanwhile, the Gülen movement has engaged in a lobbying campaign of its own: Its American nonprofit arm, the “Alliance for Shared Values,” has spent $580,000 on lobbying Congress and the State Department since 2016.
Questions remain unresolved
Assuming that Adsız is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, his contributions were not made illegally. The circumstances surrounding them, however, make them unusual. Given what is publicly available about Adsız, we do not have a clear explanation for the ultimate source of the funds used to make the $250,000 in contributions. Additionally, while CREW has been unable to determine whether Adsız has attended any RNC events or gained access to any politicians or officials as a result of his contributions, it is unlikely that his generous giving went unnoticed. CREW attempted to contact Adsız for more information on his contributions and other political involvements, but was unable to reach him for comment.
Fortunately, there is a precedent for what the RNC should do in this situation. In 2015, when USA Today discovered that the campaign of then-Senator Kelly Ayotte had received $43,100 in donations from individuals associated with the Gülen network, several of whom the paper noted had “modest incomes,” the senator refunded those donations “out of an abundance of caution” as to the funds’ origins. The facts relating to Ömer Adsız’s recent contributions are essentially the same as in that previous case, except that the sum he contributed is several times greater. If the Republican National Committee wishes to follow the protocol established by Ayotte’s campaign, it must refund Adsız’s contributions or, at the very least, conduct a thorough investigation into the funds’ origins.
Photo by Pedro Szekely.