PAC Favoring Ties With Cuba Raised $350,000 in Past Six Months, Will Spend on House, Senate Races

Wall Street Journal

By: Byron Tau

A political action committee formed to support candidates for Congress who favor strengthening U.S. ties with Cuba raised about $350,000 in its first seven months existence, the group said.

New Cuba PAC has nearly $300,000 on hand going into the 2016 cycle and has helped raise another $100,000 directly for Congressional candidates of both parties by holding fundraising events. The group plans to engage in key House and Senate races around the country but especially in Florida, where the state’s influential Cuban-American community has traditionally opposed a thaw.

The Florida Senate race to succeed Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, features both Republican and Democratic candidates who seem open to improved ties between the two countries.

“As we enter 2016, we will do all that we can to support candidates and elected officials working towards ending the embargo, which will ultimately benefit both U.S. citizens and the Cuban people,” said James Williams, co-director of the New Cuba PAC.

Though a modest sum by the standards of modern super PACs and political nonprofits, the group hopes to counteract advocacy groups that oppose normalization and have long held sway in Washington.

An affiliated nonprofit, Engage Cuba, was formed in April by veteran political operatives from both parties and is engaged in a lobbying campaign to get Congress to drop the trade embargo with Cuba. That effort has also drawn the support of major business entities like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who see business opportunities in the island’s markets.

Founded in May, New Cuba PAC, attracted a number of notable donors in the second half of 2015, including major figures in the business, legal and political communities. Cuban-American Miami billionaire and political donor Miguel Fernandez, Pat Riley of NBA basketball fame, and the corporate political action committee of Marriott International, Inc. hotels all gave to the group.

Other donors to New Cuba PAC include former White House counsel under President Barack Obama Greg Craig, former Massachusetts Democratic Rep. William Delahunt, and former Carlos Gutierrez, commerce secretary  under President George W. Bush.

Cuba been under a U.S. trade embargo since 1962, when at the height of the Cold War the U.S. sought to isolate the island nation in part to press its communist rulers to break ties with the Soviet Union. It restricts U.S. citizens’ travel to the country and curbs U.S. business activities and financial transactions there.

Mr. Obama reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014 and has made it easier for Americans to travel to, do business with, and remit money to the island. But lifting the embargo will require an act of Congress.

Many Republicans in Congress oppose lifting the embargo, arguing open relations would embolden the ruling communist Castro regime — which has been accused of human rights violations and crackdowns on democracy and political expression.

“Shamefully, for the first time since the murderous Castro regime seized power decades ago, we have a U.S. president who repeatedly sides with the oppressors over the oppressed,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican in a statement this week about the Obama administration’s Cuba policies.