New Hampshire Turkish-American Couple Among Top Political Donors in America

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By Andrew Wolf

NASHUA, N.H. (Nashua Telegraph) — A Nashua couple ranks among America’s most generous political donors, but they don’t dabble in New Hampshire politics.

Yalcin and Serpil Ayasli gave more money to politicians and political action groups than anyone else in the country during the 2008 election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics. Their beneficence hasn’t slowed much since, apparently funded by a steady sale of stock in the integrated circuits company that Yalcin Ayasli founded.

The Ayaslis and their children gave $277,800 to various candidates and political action committees for the 2010 election cycle, the center reported, including $30,400 each to the National Republican Committee. The couple’s $249,600 in donations ranked them 12th in the country on the center’s list of top individual donors last year.

Their $424,050 in contributions in 2008 — when they were the nation’s top individual contributors — were evenly split between Democratic and Republican candidates, according to the center’s website, www.opensecrets.org.

While the Ayaslis’ donations have tipped toward Republicans recently, a closer look suggests their giving has nothing to do with partisan politics, but rather is aimed toward advancing Turkish-American relations and the interests and image of Turkey in the United States.

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Most recently, Yalcin Ayasli and groups he supports helped lead the countercharge against bringing the Armenian Genocide Resolution to a vote during the closing days of the 111th Congress.

A spokesman for Ayasli’s foundation, the Turkish Coalition of America, Phil Elwood, has been seeking to arrange an interview for The Telegraph with Yalcin Ayasli for several weeks, but has yet to propose a date.

From Turkey to Nashua

The Ayaslis emigrated from Turkey to the United States in 1979, and moved to Nashua from Lexington, Mass., in 2006, public records show, buying a condo at 75 Hawthorne Village Road in the exclusive, gated community of Sky Meadow.

The couple and two of their children, Bahar and Orham, are registered to vote in Nashua, city records show. Their home address also serves as the US contact address for Good Foods and Nar Gourmet, a company Yalcin Ayasli founded that sells gourmet olive oil and other traditional Turkish condiments.

The Ayaslis’ background is more high tech, however. Yalcin and Serpil Ayasli each has close connections with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Yalcin Ayasli earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering.

According to MIT, Serpil Ayasli was a postdoctoral fellow in the university’s physics department from 1979-82, and worked for 23 years in MIT’s super-secret, federally funded Lincoln Labs (“chartered to apply advanced technology to problems of national security,” the Labs’ website states) before retiring in 2005.

One of their three children is also an MIT graduate.

A former Raytheon engineer, Yalcin Ayasli founded and made his fortune in Hittite Microwave Corp., a global integrated-circuits company based in Chelmsford, Mass. Ayasli started Hittite Microwave as a one-man shop in 1985, doing contract work for the military, according to a company brochure.

The company makes integrated circuits and other electronic components used in automotive, communications, military and space industries, including components used in fuses for bombs and missiles, according to a 2007 presentation by Yalcin Ayasli titled “Technical Infrastructure of Turkish Defense Industry,” which he gave at the annual Turkish American Business Council conference.

Hittite reported $163 million in sales in 2009, with a $46 million net profit, and recently reported sales of $64.2 million in the third quarter of 2010, according to annual and quarterly reports. The company was valued at $1.3 billion in 2007, according to Ayasli.

Although headquartered in Chelmsford, Mass., Hittite Microwave has facilities around the world, and more than half of its revenue comes from sales outside the US, the company reports.

In 2006, Hittite was fined $221,250 by the federal Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry Security for exporting regulated, military or space-grade electronics to Russia, China and Latvia in 2000 and 2001 without an export license, and in one case after making a false statement on the shipping declaration.

The bureau is charged with ensuring that companies don’t sell sensitive military hardware to hostile countries, and can impose administrative and criminal penalties.

Federal Securities and Exchange Commission filings show that Yalcin Ayasli has been selling Hittite stock on a near daily basis for several years, slowly but surely divesting himself from the company he founded.

In October 2006, not long after he retired, Yalcin Ayasli still owned more than 11 million shares of Hittite Microwave, roughly one-third of the company. Around that time, the company’s total worth was more than $1 billion, according to his own estimates. By the end of 2009, however, Ayasli owned 3.4 million shares, just over 11 percent of the company’s common stock, SEC filings show.

Ayasli was selling his stock steadily, SEC records show. During the first 10 days of October, for example, Ayasli sold 67,000 shares of Hittite in seven transactions, fetching from $47.72 per share on October 1 to $49.36 per share on October 7, more than $3 million worth of stock in just 10 days, SEC records show.

His sales continued at a similar pace through November, although the price inched upward, topping $50 a share. (Hittite shares have since climbed past $60 a share, SEC filings show).

As of November 22, Ayasli owned 2,066,886 shares of Hittite, less than 7 percent of the company’s 30,813,000 outstanding shares. Because he is no longer a director and owns less than 10 percent of the company, Ayasli isn’t required by SEC rules to report further sales of Hittite stock.

Ayasli Children LLC owned another 8.6 percent of Hittite, or about 2.6 million shares, as of Dec. 31, 2009.

Advancing His Aims

The Ayaslis’ political donations are small change compared with Yalcin Ayasli’s funding of organizations that promote Turkish culture, Turkey’s interests in the United States and close relations between the two countries.

In 2007, Yalcin Ayasli founded the Turkish Coalition of America, donating nearly $30 million worth of Hittite Microwave stock as seed money to that group, IRS records show. Ayasli serves as chairman of the TCA, which is devoted to promoting Turkish-American relations.

According to its website, the group is the thirdlargest sponsor of congressional travel, spending $545,710 to send five members of Congress and 80 staffers to Turkey since May 2009.

Yalcin Ayasli also was a founding trustee of the Turkish Cultural Foundation, of Washington, DC, according to a biography posted by the Turkish American Scientists and Scholars Association. According to IRS records, that group’s revenue from gifts and donations jumped from around $38,000 in 2004 to $4.6 million in 2005 and $13.6 million in 2006, although the group’s IRS Form 990 doesn’t specify the source of the donations.

According to its website, the Turkish Cultural Foundation’s aims include “promoting and preserving Turkish culture and heritage worldwide, through original programs and cooperation with like minded organizations,” and supporting education in Turkey and research relating to Turkey.

The Turkish Cultural Foundation and Turkish Coalition of America share an office suite at 1025 Connecticut Ave. in Washington with the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund and the Turkish Coalition USA Political Action Committee.

Donations to the Turkish Coalition of America and the Turkish Cultural Foundation are tax-exempt, as they’re registered as public charities.

In contrast to the TCA and TCF, the Turkish Coalition USA Political Action Committee gives money directly to politicians and their campaigns. Donations to a PAC aren’t tax-exempt, and are regulated by the Federal Election Commission. The Turkish Coalition PAC aims to tap at least 10,000 Turkish- Americans to support politicians who favor Turkey and close US-Turkish relations.

“Turkey plays a central role in enhancing US national security interests and this decades-old partnership has served the interests of both nations well,” the group’s website states. “It is a time-tested alliance which needs to be strengthened and protected not only for the benefit of both nations, but also for the world.”

Turkish-American relations

The Ayaslis’ activism has placed them in the midst of an ongoing clash between the Turkish and Armenian communities in the United States over the Armenian Genocide.

Armenian-Americans generally back an effort to have the US Congress officially recognize that the mass killings and deportations of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces during World War I was genocide.

Most scholars agree it was genocide, and it’s illegal to claim otherwise in France and Switzerland. The Turkish government and many Turks contend that Armenian accounts of more than 1 million killed are exaggerated, and the Turkish government and many Turkish- Americans oppose the resolution.

Introduced in 2007, the Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution “calls upon the President to ensure that US foreign policy reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the US record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution and in the President’s annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide to characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, and to recall the proud history of US intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide,” the bill’s summary states.

America’s relations with Turkey have become especially delicate during the Iraq War and Turkey sees the resolution as an affront. The Obama administration has opposed a vote on the resolution, reversing a campaign pledge, but a House committee recommended a vote last year, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi strongly supported it. Rumors of a vote swirled during the final days of Congress, but it never came to pass.

The Ayaslis’ foundations have been active in opposing the resolution and efforts to put it to a vote and also in litigation surrounding it.

A congresswoman the Ayaslis have supported since 2008, Jeanne Schmidt, R-Ohio, a member of the Turkish Caucus, recently sued an opponent, David Kirkorian, an Armenian-American who had accused her of taking “blood money” from the “Turkish lobby.”

Schmidt argued her opponent had suggested she took money from a foreign government, which would be illegal under US campaign law. She had taken some $30,000 in contributions from Turkish- American sources, including several thousands from the Ayaslis, and she was a vocal opponent of the resolution.

Schmidt won re-election in 2008, and later filed false advertising charges against Kirkorian with the Ohio Elections Commission, and sued him for libel. She won the Elections Commission case and the libel suit remains pending.

Schmidt was represented in the Ohio Elections case by Bruce Fein, a lawyer with the Turkish American Defense Fund, who shares an office with the Ayaslis’ nonprofits. Kirkorian has since charged that Schmidt improperly accepted Fein’s services as a donation.

The Ohio case became particularly noteworthy when Sibel Emmonds, a former FBI translator, testified about allegations of bribery and espionage by Turkish-American lobby groups — including the American Turkish Council, a group formerly headed by the same man who now heads Ayasli’s Turkish Coalition of America and related PAC, Lincoln McCurdy.

Edmonds alleged that certain current and former members of Congress had supplied classified information to Turkish and Israeli agents in the months after September 11, 2001, and that some of the money passed through Turkish- American lobby groups actually comes directly from Turkey.

Edmonds never mentioned the Ayaslis, however, and she specified that her knowledge of Turkish lobby groups predates the founding of their Turkish Coalition of America.

Little Spent in NH

The Ayaslis’ political donations follow the same general pattern as their charitable giving: They support politicians who support Turkey and Turkish-American relations.

In the 2006, 2008 and 2010 elections, the Ayaslis and their three children gave at least $732,800 in reportable political contributions, according to the Center’s website, opensecrets.org.

Their largest donations — the annual $30,400 maximum for donations to parties – have gone to the National Republican Congressional Committee, followed by donations of $20,000 and up to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The Ayaslis and their children also have given the maximum $5,000 annual contributions to the Turkish Coalition USA PAC and Turkish American Heritage PAC.

Most of the politicians the Ayaslis support are members of the Caucus on US Turkish Relations & Turkish Americans, known informally as the Turkish Caucus, a “bipartisan platform for members of Congress” who focus on US-Turkish relations.

Only political junkies would recognize many of their names, which include Dan Burton, R-Indiana; Rush Holt, D-New Jersey; Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina; Stephen Cohen, D-Tennessee; Brad Miller, D-North Carolina and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida.

The Ayaslis also have supported politicians who are Turkish-American, such as Oz Bengur, a Maryland Democrat. The Ayaslis gave Bengur’s campaign a total of $12,600 when he was running for Congress in 2006 and 2007. No information was readily available on whether they’ve supported his current bid for the Maryland House of Delegates.

In all that time, the recipients of the Ayaslis’ largesse have included only one New Hampshire politician: Katrina Swett, of Bow, who dropped out of the 2008 Senate race to back former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. The Ayaslis also had supported Swett’s father, the late California Rep. Tom Lantos.

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