What does David Plouffe do when he’s not helping Barack Obama campaign for a second term or providing political advice to the West Wing? Like many other people in politics, he gets income from the speaking circuit. One particular payday may be a big problem for his regular boss in the Oval Office, reports the Washington Post — a six-figure sum for speaking at a company doing business with Iran:
David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser who was President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, accepted a $100,000 speaking fee in 2010 from an affiliate of a company doing business with Iran’s government.
A subsidiary of MTN Group, a South Africa-based telecommunications company, paid Plouffe for two speeches he made in Nigeria in December 2010, about a month before he joined the White House staff.
Since Plouffe’s speeches, MTN Group has come under intensified scrutiny from U.S. authorities because of its activities in Iran and Syria, which are under international sanctions intended to limit the countries’ access to sensitive technology. At the time of Plouffe’s speeches, MTN had been in a widely reported partnership for five years with a state-owned Iranian telecommunications firm.
Five years earlier, MTN partnered with Irancell, a state-owned telecom that wanted to expand its operations. One year later, the Bush administration’s “point man on Iran sanction enforcement” told the government of Turkey that Irancell was wholly owned by the Revolutionary Guard. One year before Plouffe’s big payday, the IRG stormed the streets and strangled the Green Revolution before it could overthrow the mullahcracy — which eventually led the Obama administration to belatedly react by increasing sanctions on Iran and especially the IRG.
In other words, Plouffe took the gig long after the US government knew about MTN’s partnership with Irancell, years after the US had determined that Irancell was owned by the same military that props up the mullahs and is working on nuclear weapons, and after its brutal crackdown. The WaPo notes that there is nothing illegal about accepting speaking fees from MTN, but taking money from a company that’s partnering with the IRG certainly prompts some hard questions about judgment by Plouffe, and in the White House itself.
Obama promised Iran an “open hand” when he ran for office in 2008. If nothing else, Plouffe’s payday gives an interesting new twist to that campaign promise.
Update: For some reason, although the article said David Plouffe, I read it as David Axelrod. My apologies to Mr. Axelrod and readers; I’ve corrected it in the post.