How Cuban American Hard-Liners Influence U.S. Policy With Campaign Donations: Report

While U.S. policy toward Cuba has opened up since President Barack Obama took office, a new report from Public Campaign, an organization dedicated to reforming campaign financing, raises the question of whether hard-line Cuban Americans will succeed in stifling further changes in U.S.-Cuba relations through their campaign contributions to members of Congress.

According to the report, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, along with a "network of hard-line Cuban American donors," have made over $10 million in campaign donations since the 2004 election cycle, with 337 federal candidates receiving funds through the PAC.

The report claims that the candidates that received these contributions have "more often than not cast their votes on Cuba policy issues with the hard-liners." It highlights a group of 18 House members, a mix of Democrats and Republicans, whose voting patterns appeared to have shifted significantly since receiving their first contribution from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. Having once voted consistently in favor of easing relations with Cuba, these members were now more often found to be questioning any such shift, the report concludes. Unsurprisingly, as the power in Washington has shifted, so too has the money. In 2004, 71 percent of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's money went to Republicans; in 2010, the figure is projected to be 76 percent to Democrats.

When it comes to public sentiment toward the U.S.'s relationship with Cuba, the Public Campaign report insists that the hard-liners, in their opposition to repealing such things as the travel ban for Americans, are out of step with where the majority of the country is heading. A poll by Bendixen and Associates conducted in September 2009, which is cited in the report, found that 59 percent of Cuban-Americans favored lifting the travel ban for all Americans. Similarly, a national survey conducted by World Public Opinion in April claimed that 70 percent of Americans were in favor of being allowed to travel to Cuba. A congressional hearing is due to be held on November 19 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the topic of lifting the travel ban to Cuba.

In April, Obama abandoned restrictions on Cuban Americans' ability to travel to the island and send money to relatives, a move described by the New York Times at the time as the "most significant shift in United States policy toward Cuba in decades." Obama also cleared the way for telecommunications companies to pursue licensing agreement in the country. The U.S.'s trade embargo with Cuba, however, remains firmly in place.