Neil Bush denounces ‘shameful’ claims linking Michelle Nunn to ‘terrorists’

One day after Republican David Perdue pocketed the endorsement of George H.W. Bush in the race for U.S. Senate, a son of the 90-year-old former president denounced as “shameful” and “disrespectful” Perdue-endorsed claims that a Bush-established foundation once headed by Democratic rival Michelle Nunn “gave money to organizations linked to terrorists.”

The charge is contained in a 30-second TV spot paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and approved by Perdue, now airing on television stations across the state.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Neil Bush, the 59-year-old chairman of the Points of Light Foundation, in an exclusive phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation, whether it’s an independent political group or a candidate for office.” Here's the video in question:

The younger Bush called on the candidate endorsed by his father to renounce charge contained in the TV ad:

“Neither Points of Light nor Michelle Nunn have had anything to do with funneling money from our organization to terrorists organizations. Anyone who makes that claim needs to understand the facts and then they need to denounce those claims. To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.

“It’s just wrong to suggest that Points of Light, or in the context of Points of Light, Michelle Nunn, had anything to do with funneling money to terrorists. If those allegations are being made, it’s symptomatic of what I consider to be one of our country’s growing problems. It really does upset me, honestly. Which is why I’m talking to you.

“To have a blemish on the great work that’s being done by Points of Light, to blow wind into the sails of a national service movement – it’s hurtful to our cause, and it’s disrespectful to our founder.”

Nunn’s vulnerability to the charge first surfaced in a memo generated by her own campaign, which explored GOP arguments that might be used against her. From Megan Whittemore, spokeswoman for the Perdue campaign:

"Michelle Nunn's own campaign plan highlights serious concerns about her group's association with terrorist-linked organizations. The people of Georgia will have to decide if that's who they want representing them in the U.S. Senate."

Here’s how our Politifact operation broke down the situation when it first surfaced in August:

[T]he claim centered on MissionFish, a business entity that Points of Light owned until 2012 and collected donations from eBay buyers and sellers for any of 20,000 charities. One of those charities, Islamic Relief USA, received about $13,500 through this process. Islamic Relief USA is part of a global network of charities that is under the umbrella of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

That organization has been accused by one top Israeli official of having links to the terrorist group Hamas. Islamic Relief has denied any such connections. And the way MissionFish worked, there's no indication that Points of Light directed money to Islamic Relief USA or any specific charity.

Neil Bush, the third of the four Bush sons, rarely dabbles in politics. He praised Nunn effusively, but said his remarks did not constitute an endorsement of her bid to follow her father, Sam Nunn, into the U.S. Senate. Said Neil Bush:

“I’m chairman of Points of Light. Michelle was CEO of Points of Light. We had a good relationship. I admired Michelle’s leadership of Points of Light. We merged Points of Light and the Hands On Network, which she founded, a number of years ago.

“There were obviously challenges with merging two entities as large as these two and kind of blending cultures. She did a fabulous job of handling issues related to the merger, moving from Washington D.C. to Atlanta. There are all sorts of challenges. Our boards debated whether this was really worthwhile, and at the end of the day, because of her Michelle’s leadership and talent she surrounded herself with, things worked really smoothly.

“We have a very complex organization, and she dealt with issues very wisely and well. She showed the right kind of visionary leadership – a non-partisan or bipartisan approach to our service world. It’s evidence by the fact that Neil Bush, a member of a prominent Republican family, kind of teamed up with a Nunn, a member of a prominent Democratic family.

“It just showed that, though our nation is divided in politics, we can come together as Americans to solve some of our more intractable problems. Michelle worked the nonpartisan part of the job really well. I have lots of admiration for her as a leader of our organization, and a lot of respect for her willingness to jump in and try to find ways to serve in other capacities.”

I asked Bush if Points of Light would have Nunn back as its leader. He immediately said yes, but added that the remark wasn’t to be interpreted as an evaluation of Nunn’s election prospects.

On Monday, the Perdue campaign issued a photograph of the Republican candidate with George H.W. and Barbara Bush, along with a statement that included this:

“I have lost any confidence in the current Senate leadership, and believe David Perdue will be an independent voice for Georgia while working for positive solutions to our toughest challenges.”

The endorsement was no surprise. Nunn often mentions George H.W. Bush as a mentor, and has included photographs of herself and the former president in her campaign literature and in her own TV spots. Early this spring, the former president sent word that he would be supporting the Republican nominee.

So I also asked Neil Bush if his own praise for Nunn was a contradiction of his father’s endorsement of Perdue. No, the son answered:

“I think he would say very glowing and positive things about her. I think he admires her leadership of the organization he founded. I think he has great respect for her and her family.

“My father expressed during his presidency and his post-presidency a great inclination towards nonpartisanship, or bipartisanship. I know he would say positive things about Michelle, her character, her leadership at Points of Light.”

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.