Membership in the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has declined more than 90 percent since the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to tax documents obtained by The Washington Times.
The number of reported members spiraled down from more than 29,000 in 2000 to fewer than 1,700 in 2006. As a result, the Muslim rights group’s annual income from dues dropped from $732,765 in 2000, when yearly dues cost $25, to $58,750 last year, when the group charged $35.
The organization instead is relying on about two dozen donors a year to contribute the majority of the money for CAIR’s budget, which reached nearly $3 million last year.
Asked about the decline, Parvez Ahmed, CAIR’s board chairman, pointed to the number of donors.
“We are proud that our grass-roots support in the American Muslim community has allowed CAIR to grow from having eight chapters and offices in 2001 to having 33 today,” Mr. Ahmed said.
The self-described civil liberties organization for Muslims seeks to portray “a positive image of Islam” through public relations and the press, but instead has alienated some by defending questionable accusations of discrimination.
Critics of the organization say they are not surprised that membership is sagging, and that a recent decision by the Justice Department to name CAIR as “unindicted co-conspirators” in a federal case against another foundation charged with providing funds to a terrorist group could discourage new members.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, director of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, says the sharp decline in membership calls into question whether the organization speaks for American Muslims, as the group has claimed.
“This is the untold story in the myth that CAIR represents the American Muslim population. They only represent their membership and donors,” Mr. Jasser said.
“Post-9/11, they have marginalized themselves by their tired exploitation of media attention for victimization issues at the expense of representing the priorities of the American Muslim population,” Mr. Jasser said.
The organization has condemned some suicide bombings in Israel but has been criticized for refusing to condemn Hamas or Hezbollah by name.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, rescinded a “certificate of accomplishment” to Sacramento activist Basim Elkarra after learning that he was a CAIR official, according to Newsweek magazine.
Mrs. Boxer “expressed concern” about past statements and actions by the group, as well as assertions by some law-enforcement officials that it “gives aid to international terrorist groups,” the magazine quoted her spokeswoman as saying.
Rep. Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania Democrat, came under fire after delivering a speech at a local CAIR fundraiser in April. Mr. Sestak later said that one of his aides, a former CAIR spokeswoman for the Philadelphia chapter, booked the engagement without his consent.
In response to the arrest of the “Fort Dix Six” involving a plot to attack the New Jersey military base, CAIR “applauded efforts” by federal law-enforcement authorities but “requested that media outlets and public officials refrain from linking this case to the faith of Islam.”
CAIR also asked “mosques and Islamic institutions in New Jersey and nationwide to report any incidents of anti-Muslim backlash.”
CAIR is leading the legal charge for six imams who were removed from a US Airways flight in November claiming the men suffered from discrimination because of their religion.
Passengers who complained that the men were acting suspiciously are now being sued along with the airline, prompting legislative action by House Republicans to protect “John Doe” passengers from legal action for reporting suspicious activity that may foreshadow a terrorist attack.
CAIR listed contributors in its Form 990 filings with the Internal Revenue Service, but the IRS redacted all the names before releasing the documents.
In 2001, 26 contributors gave more than $1.6 million; in 2002, 26 gave more than $2.6 million; in 2003, 24 gave more than $2 million; in 2004, 20 gave more than $1.4 million; in 2005, 19 contributed $1.3 million.
The Washington Times requested from the IRS all the 990 Forms that CAIR has filed since its inception in 1994 under the law regulating tax-exempt organizations.
The first two annual forms are no longer on file pursuant to agency regulations. Tax forms for 1997 and 1998 were “unavailable” either because the group’s income was less than $25,000, was filed under a parent corporation or “the return may have been requested by another department of the Internal Revenue Service,” the IRS said.
CAIR’s papers were provided by the government agency for tax years 1996, 1999, and 2000 through 2005.
Revenue from those periods totaled more than $17.7 million, while program expenses totaled $8.5 million.
Mr. Jasser criticized CAIR “to be of little use in the war against militant Islamism. Their ideological sympathies for Islamism and inability to condemn Muslim terrorist organizations and dictatorships by name have made them a liability for a number of American Muslims who do not share their ideology.”
“All of this must impact their membership numbers,” he said.
In 2004, a federal grand jury returned a 42-count indictment against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and seven officers for raising money for Hamas, money laundering and falsifying tax returns. The Holy Land trial begins July 16 in Dallas, and CAIR is listed among 300 new co-conspirators filed May 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
According to the government’s trial brief, filed May 29, CAIR is an entity “who are, and or were, members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee and/or its organization.”
Mousa Abu Marzook, a former CAIR official, “has been since 1995, a specially designated terrorist and Hamas leader,” the brief said.
Mr. Ahmed called the Justice Department’s brief “a McCarthyite political move that allows the government to smear major American Muslim groups, including hundreds of mosques representing hundreds of thousands of ordinary Muslims nationwide, without any evidence being offered in a court of law and without legal recourse for those defamed.”
“It is unfortunate that the Justice Department apparently violated its own guidelines, which indicate that such lists are to remain sealed to prevent unfair and un-American labeling of those who are not facing any criminal charges,” Mr. Ahmed said.
Conservative scholar Phil Kent said the Justice Department’s actions will “definitely hurt CAIR’s membership numbers in the future.”
“I’m not surprised to see these figures,” said Mr. Kent, who has written a book called “Foundations of Betrayal: How the Liberal Super Rich Undermine America.”
Mr. Jasser says some Muslims are hesitant to pay tithes to local imams or join organizations out of fear it may be linked to other groups that finance terrorism.
CAIR constantly notes in its press releases that it cooperates with federal law-enforcement activities and claims to conduct sensitivity training for Homeland Security officials. A February press release from CAIR’s Chicago office says it met with Homeland Security immigration officials and made an agreement to “conduct sensitivity training to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers and possibly prison personnel.”
Homeland Security officials deny such claims and a check of the Office of Management and Budget Watch database of government contracts since 2000 shows CAIR has never been awarded a grant or a government contract.
“The department does not have a formalized relationship with that particular organization,” said one Homeland Security official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We do have formalized relations with other community groups with whom we do contracts for training and consultation on matters that are specific to a given community.”
“It is not uncommon for that particular organization to issue a press release attempting to overstate their interaction with the department,” the official said.