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When I was writing last fall about then-Senator Norm Coleman’s friends and political donors, I received several tips about a curious Minnesota-based non-profit called the Step Into World Peace (SIWP) foundation. The board members of the foundation — whose website, which appears to have been recently taken down after I started reviewing it, announces that “World peace cannot happen alone, It can only happen together” – includes two of Coleman’s closest allies, businessmen Nasser Kazeminy and John B. Goodman, chairman of the Goodman Group.
I spent some time looking into the foundation, but eventually gave it up, as it wasn’t clear that it had any direct connection to Coleman. But with Kazeminy under federal investigation and Coleman’s ties to his donors the object of at least indirect scrutiny, it seemed like a good time to take another shot.
SIWP was founded in 2002 with the dual goals of “empower[ing] youth to build peace skills” and erecting two 9/11 “Freedom Fountain” memorials. One of the fountains—a computer-rendered image on the website showed the body inlaid with coins symbolizing fallen firefighters and an upper basin supported by pillars resembling the World Trade Center towers – was to be located in the Twin Cities area, with the second to be built in New York. SIWP also sold peace bandanas, peace promise wristbands, and even peace water—“because creating so much peace can make one thirsty.”
Goodman and Kazeminy were among the original directors of SIWP (and still are, according to the most recent disclosure forms). Sherry Goodman, apparently John’s wife, is the president, and his son Shane is the CEO. The latter appears to be a sort of latter-day Maynard G. Krebs. “I was always aware of my surroundings, conscious of the entire world that I was born into,” his bio on the group’s website reads. “I believe in Peace.”
John Goodman is a major GOP donor, contributing $217,304 to the party’s candidates and causes over the last ten years according to FEC filings. Of this, $39,500 has gone to Senator Norm Coleman. Shane Goodman has contributed $10,900 to Republicans, with the lion’s share—$6,600—going to Coleman. Kazeminy and his relatives have also donated generously to the GOP and to Coleman.
Since being founded, SIWP has raised about $110,000 and spent roughly $88,000. Virtually all of the activity dates to the group’s first few years of operations. But it’s not at all clear what the foundation actually does with its money, or what its future plans are. There is no indication that it has built either of the proposed 9/11 memorials. One early project was a program to “unite people” at Rush Creek Elementary in Maple Grove, Minnesota. “We are reaching out to everyone to collect steps,” says the website. “Theoretical steps of course, but steps that represent how many people we have reached and the things we all can do to make the World a better place.” The concrete result of the project was that the Rush Creek students wrote about 250 peace messages.
By far the biggest category of SIWP spending, which occurred from 2002 to 2004, was for “contract labor.” Total expenditures for this work came to $40,500, although the foundation’s annual disclosure filings do not detail who was contracted or what they were paid for.
SIWP has been virtually inactive in recent years, raising only $2,000 since 2005. Most of that was allocated for the “filming of group meetings, the creation of marketing material, and work on future documentary.”
There are a number of questions that spring to mind about the Step Into World Peace foundation, among them: Who provided the early money for the group — Kazeminy and Goodman, or donors targeted through fundraising efforts? What exactly has the money paid for? How has this non-profit group sought to meet its central original goal of honoring the fallen heroes of 9/11? Who received that $40,000 in contract labor payments, and for what work?
Calls to Goodman and Kazeminy for comment were not returned.
(This item was reported and written with the help of Sam Fellman)
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Number of free condoms handed out by the Brazilian government in advance of Carnival this year:
The best way to measure happiness is simply to ask people how happy they are.
Following three weeks of clashes between protesters and government forces that killed at least 17 people, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro announced a two-day extension of Carnival. “Happiness will conquer the embittered,” he said during an appearance at a recreation center.
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”