The Rev. Sun Myung Moon is undertaking an ambitious and diffuse campaign to influence members of Congress, their top foreign-policy staffs and United Nations ambassadors with an ongoing series of seminars and junkets in New York and Jerusalem and on Capitol Hill.
Groups such as the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) the Women's Federation for World Peace (WFWP), the World Culture and Sports Festival and the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) - all groups that have been founded by or are directly affiliated with Moon - have lured lawmakers, congressional staffers and various countries' U.N. ambassadors to their symposiums.
But those organizations have not made their association with Moon clear to the participants before they accepted the glossy invitations, attendees say.
At one conference, billed as a symposium between congressional staffers and U.N. ambassadors, Hill aides were somewhat surprised to be greeted at the New Yorker hotel by a gaggle of non-English-speaking Korean women.
The IIFWP's continuing campaign had its most recent Washington event last April, where Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large at United Press International (UPI) and The Washington Times; Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.); and the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, the former D.C. delegate to Congress, all spoke at a panel moderated by IIFWP officials.
The "Capitol Hill briefing" was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was co-hosted by the World Media Association, an arm of the Washington Times Foundation.
That symposium occurred one month after Moon - the controversial spiritual leader of the Unification Church and owner of a media empire that owns The Washington Times and UPI - was crowned as the Messiah in a Senate office building.
Reports of Moon's coronation sent lawmakers scurrying to explain their attendance and stoked a media maelstrom over the rather unusual occurrence of a congressional crowning.
The Washington Post later reported that Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) had permitted Moon to use the Senate space. Since then, several members of Congress have said they were deceived by Moon and his offshoot groups.
A spokesman for Davis said the Illinois lawmaker decided to sever ties with all Moon-affiliated organizations in June.
Mike Leone, the IIFWP's public-affairs director, said the organization does not hide its relationship with Moon, though he said he was not certain if Moon's name appears on all invitations.
"It's not a hidden thing," he said.
"Certainly in the future, we are planning to organize seminars and symposiums with lawmakers, congressional staffers and other leaders, like the U.N. leaders," he added.
This June, the IIFWP gave its Good Governance Award to Julian Robert Hunte, president of the 58th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
A congressional junket to New York City in April 2003 with more than 20 congressional aides, two lawmakers and several U.N. ambassadors provides some insight into the happenings at the IIFWP conferences.
Participants were invited for a two-day program billed as "US-UN Symposium: Working Together to Solve Critical Global Problems."
Aides to Reps. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.), Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), Lucille Roybal Allard (D-Calif.), Tom Davis (R-Va.), and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) attended the event and Reps. Davis and Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) addressed the conference.
From the beginning, however, it was clear that this was no ordinary congressional junket. It featured a welcoming committee of traditionally dressed Korean women, who did not appear to speak English, greeting the Hill staffers.
One congressional aide, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, dropped out of the conference the minute she learned that Moon was behind the group.
"The first tip-off was little Korean women greeting you at the door and giving you a program," the aide said, adding, "The second I walked in, everything was wrong, and I walked out."
"I got the invitation and was really excited about the prospect of having a dialogue between U.N. ambassadors and congressional staffers," the aide said. "It had been duplicitously advertised, and I felt really duped."
The aide informed the conference organizers that she would be departing, and later refunded the cost of the trip with personal funds.
She said she was shocked that others did not have a similar reaction and leave with her. "Plenty of other staffers there realized what was going on and decided to stay," she said.
But another participant, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the connection with Moon was not made immediately clear and that he continued with the program out of simple curiosity.
"It was at this dinner that the presentations began, and where I heard the one and only reference to Reverend Moon - which was in passing. The emcee mentioned him in thanks for all who had made the weekend possible. But that was it," the aide said. "They made no other mention of Reverend Moon the entire weekend. In fact, had I not been paying attention at the dinner on the first night, I likely wouldn't have heard it at all."
In another odd departure from a typical junket, IIFWP officials wanted staffers to share rooms to foster a "spirit of community and cooperation that the U.N. espouses," according to the aide.
The aide recalled that several men who excused themselves from the symposium that day to use the restroom were escorted in and out of the conference.
"All of [us] found it rather odd," he said.
After dinner, Davis spoke and then a woman sang a rendition of Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings."
The next morning, the aides went to the United Nations for a tour and various meetings.
Davis spoke at the breakfast Monday morning, April 28. The IIFWP's website says that a lunch was "hosted by H.E. Dr. Abdul Mejid Hussein, Permanent Representative of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the UN," where Weldon spoke about U.S.-U.N. relations and his efforts to improve relations with Russia and North Korea.