Gulen also recently ran afoul of Turkey’s president, Recip Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan accused Gulenists of operating a “parallel state,” and he reportedly lobbied President Obama last month to extradite Gulen back to Turkey.
By most accounts, the Gulen movement, or Hizmet as it is known to some, is not a radical Islamic movement. Yesilada, who serves as the contemporary Turkish Studies endowed chair at Portland State University, told TheDC in an interview that he has found no evidence of Gulenist ties to any terrorist groups.
But with an estimated 8 million followers and $50 billion in assets, Gulenists do hope to influence both the U.S. and Turkish political system through a worldwide network of businesses, nonprofit organizations, media companies and charter schools, Yesilada and others familiar with the group have claimed.
To help support its diverse interests, Gulen movement supporters in the U.S. have in recent years begun to donate heavily to numerous political campaigns. Gulenists have also paid for hundreds of Turkish “cultural” trips for members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle.
Gulenists’ contributions to congressional campaigns have been known for some time, as Buzzfeed reported last year. Texas Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee and Henry Cuellar , both Democrats, are among the biggest benefactors of Gulen contributions.
USA Today reported last month that the House ethics committee has investigated more than 200 trips taken by members of Congress since 2008 that were secretly funded by Gulen groups.
While the ethics committee found that none of the members of Congress who went on the trips violated federal regulations, investigators found evidence suggesting that the Gulenists “may have affirmatively lied to and/or withheld information” about the junkets and falsified disclosures provided to Congress.
The matter has since been referred to the Department of Justice. The FBI has also reportedly investigated whether the Gulen movement’s charter schools — of which there are more than 130 — have taken advantage of the H1-B visa system by hiring Turkish teachers who are kicking back some of their government-paid salaries to the Gulen movement.
Some of the Gulenist campaign donations may have been illegal as well, USA Today reported on Friday. The newspaper reported that New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte , a Republican, returned $43,100 in donations she received from 19 Turkish donors with ties to Gulen that she received on April 30, 2014.
Many of those donors who gave to Ayotte could not be located, USA Today reported. Others gave donations that comprised a suspiciously large percentage of their incomes.
In giving back the donations, Ayotte called on other politicians, including Clinton, to return Gulen money. The Clinton campaign did not respond to an email from TheDC asking whether the Democrat would return the contributions.
Clinton has been the biggest recipient of Gulenist donations of any presidential candidate this cycle, federal election records show.
Besides his massive Clinton Foundation donation, Recep Ozkan, who is listed on various campaign finance disclosures as an executive at JIG Corp., Everglobe Partners, and Baharu Inc., gave $25,000 to the pro-Clinton Ready PAC in 2014. He contributed an additional $5,400 to her campaign this year.
As president of the Turkish Cultural Center, Ozkan hosted Clinton at Ramadan celebration dinners in 2006 and 2007 when she was in the Senate.
A photo taken during Clinton’s 2006 appearance shows her posing with Ozkan in front of a banner listing a number of Gulen-affiliated organizations, such as Zaman International Newspaper, the Interfaith Dialogue Center, and two New York-based Gulen charter schools, Brooklyn Amity School and Long Island Amity School.