A new ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee claims U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin voted to send hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran that was then used to financially back “radical” groups including Hamas, a militant group in Gaza designated as a terror group by the United States.
The ad, released on Nov. 8, 2023, comes on the heels of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.
“Baldwin voted to send hundreds of millions to Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, bankrolling radicals like Hezbollah and Hamas,” a voiceover narrates in the ad.
There are two agreements to consider when examining whether this claim about Baldwin is true.
Let’s examine both.
U.S. agreement to release $6 billion in Iranian funds and free American prisoners
First, the ad references the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, which brought scrutiny to a U.S. agreement with Iran made in August. The deal, made by President Joe Biden, secured freedom for five U.S. citizens detained in Iran in exchange for allowing the country to access $6 billion of its own funds.
The funds were not taxpayer dollars but rather Iranian oil revenue frozen in a South Korean bank. The money has been frozen since 2019, when former President Donald Trump imposed a ban on Iranian oil exports and sanctions on its banking sector.
But the money never made it to Iran.
The $6 billion was transferred out of South Korea when U.S. hostages were returned in mid-September. The money was transferred to Qatar, a Middle East nation that sits across the Persian Gulf from Iran, not Iran itself.
However, the Biden administration and Qatar agreed to hold the money in Qatar’s central bank and prevent Iran from accessing it, officials announced Oct. 12, days after the initial attack.
Notably, Baldwin was one of the first U.S. senators to urge the Biden administration refreeze the money after the Hamas attacks on Israel. She joined a bipartisan group of 13 senators in an Oct. 13 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Even if Iran had received the money, the deal required Iran to only use it for humanitarian items, such as medicine and food.
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in September there are “strict Treasury Department safeguards” in place to ensure the money is spent on humanitarian goods, despite warnings from Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi that Iran would spend the money however it saw fit.
Still, critics of the deal argue the money is fungible. Put simply, that means Iran could spend its existing money on allowed goods but turn around and use those goods for an illegitimate purpose.
Foreign policy analysts previously told PolitiFact National fungibility is a legitimate concern in this case.
However, Andrew Kydd, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor, added a caveat to fungibility.
“This still frees up their budget constraint to spend other money on other things,” Kydd wrote in an email to us. “But by this logic anyone who buys something at Walmart is supporting the Chinese nuclear arsenal.”
For now, the $6 billion released in August has not made it to Iran.
2015 Iran nuclear agreement
In 2015, Baldwin voted with Democrats against a Republican effort to block Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Republicans failed to get the 60 votes needed to block the deal, which lifted U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
The 2015 agreement didn’t send money to Iran, but rather freed up Iranian assets previously frozen under sanctions. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told lawmakers in July 2015 that Iran would gain access to an estimated $56 billion under the deal, though other estimates from Iranian officials placed that number lower.
Republican former President Donald Trump later pulled out of the deal in 2018.
“Tammy Baldwin may not like being held accountable, but she can’t hide from her record of voting to send millions of dollars to the world’s leading sponsor of terror groups like Hamas,” said NRSC Spokesman Tate Mitchell.
But did the freed funds go to Hamas and Hezbollah? That part is less clear.
It is true that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Iran is a longtime sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah, as the ad claims. The U.S. State Department cited Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism in a 2017 report, a fact mentioned in the ad.
The department did not identify any specific nation as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism in a similar 2021 report.
The ad also uses visual and audio editing to suggest the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks are tied to Iran, which is currently a disputed claim.
It’s possible Iran could have helped Hamas orchestrate the Oct. 7 attacks against Israel, though Iran has denied involvement. Unnamed Hamas and Hezbollah sources told The Wall Street Journal in October the group received direct support from Iran to conduct its attack, and the paper reported Iranian security officials helped plan and execute the assault.
Secretary of State Blinken told CNN on Oct. 8, 2023 the U.S. hasn’t seen definitive proof of Iranian involvement, though he added Hamas “wouldn’t be around in the way that it is without the support that it’s received from Iran over the years.”
It is technically possible some of the funds received from the 2015 nuclear deal may have gone to state-sponsored terrorism, as top U.S. government officials at the time admitted they couldn’t fully stop Iran from doing so.
However, we could not find concrete evidence directly tying funds received from the 2015 nuclear deal to money Iran gave to Hezbollah or Hamas. That means it’s difficult to connect Baldwin’s vote directly to “bankrolling radicals” — though, as we mentioned above, fungibility may apply.
Furthermore, since this money did not come from the U.S. but instead consisted of unlocked Iranian funds, it’s misleading to say Baldwin voted to “send” the money. She voted to defend a deal that would give Iran access to its own funds in exchange for more oversight over Iran’s nuclear operations.
An ad from the NRSC claimed Baldwin “voted to send hundreds of millions to Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, bankrolling radicals like Hezbollah and Hamas.”
While Baldwin voted for the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 and an agreement to return U.S. prisoners held by Iran in August 2023, both agreements unfroze Iranian funds held in foreign banks due to sanctions.
And, in the case of the 2023 deal, the funds were stalled via an Oct. 12 agreement with Qatar, meaning Iran has not yet accessed the $6 billion unfrozen in August.
Some of the money freed in 2015 may have allowed Iran to provide funding for terrorist groups, but there’s not enough concrete evidence to say the money freed in the agreement directly went to terror groups, and the money was actually freed as part of a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Still, there’s no foolproof guarantee.
Therefore, Baldwin did vote to approve an agreement that freed hundreds of millions of Iranian funds for the nation, a leading sponsor of terrorism. But the idea that the money was directly sent to Hamas or Hezbollah lacks concrete proof.
We rate this claim Mostly False.