Big Money Mitch Uses Clout for Economic Development… in Armenia. Why?

Faced with a deteriorating economy, a broken health care system, and two wars overseas, Kentuckians expect representation that is focused first and foremost on this country’s problems. So why has Sen. Mitch McConnell spending so much of his time focused on the economic problems in Armenia? For the past dozen years or so, McConnell has helped delivered approximately $90 million a year to that small country, $25 million more than even the White House has recommended.[1] The Armenia community has rewarded McConnell with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, including at least $125,000 from Armenian-Americans living in California.

McConnell, of course, is not an Armenian, nor are there many Armenian Americans in his home state of Kentucky. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, his interest derives not from ethnic solidarity but from the success of California-based Armenian activists in bundling campaign contributions for McConnell’s campaigns. McConnell inherited the relationship from former Sen. Bob Dole, who left the Senate to run for president in 1996, allowing McConnell to take over chairmanship of the subcommittee in charge of foreign aid spending.

Since then, McConnell has not only sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Armenia, but he also took a lead in 1996 in blocking aid to Armenia’s chief regional rival, Azerbaijan. That was a curious position because, only four years prior, he had been one of only four members of Congress who voted to allow aid to Azerbaijan. "Now he has changed his mind, as 1996 is an election year, and public records show that Armenian-Americans have already contributed $22,850 to him between August and December 1995," an Azerbaijani diplomat wrote.

For his part, McConnell is unabashed: “Armenia received $75 million last year, and that is considerably more thanAzerbaijan, an imbalance that I don't apologize for," he told the National Pan-Armenian Conference in 2004. "And we will try to achieve such an imbalance again this year."
1. John Cheves, “Foreign Aid Wins Friends,” The Lexington Times-Herald, October 18, 2006.