By Joseph J. Schatz and Benjamin Oreskes
Former members of Congress make millions of dollars representing countries that straddle the line between allies and headaches for US. Saudi Arabia’s long-standing reservoir of goodwill on Capitol Hill had already been dwindling for years when Congress voted to allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom over its alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks.
Dick Gephardt lobbied his former colleagues to vote against the resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide after taking Turkey on as a client. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images
But Saudi Arabia still has lots of allies among retired members of Congress — the ones it pays, at least. And they’re more than willing to leverage their access on Capitol Hill to defend the U.S.-Saudi relationship, even as an increasing number of lawmakers challenge Riyadh’s support for Wahhabi extremist groups and raise alarm bells about the humanitarian toll of its U.S.-backed military campaign in Yemen.
As the Saudis tried to prevent lawmakers from overriding President Barack Obama’s veto of the 9/11 legislation last week, former Sen. Norm Coleman — the Minnesota Republican who lost to Al Franken in 2008 — worked his former colleagues in the Senate. Former Rep. Michael Castle, a Delaware Republican now lobbying for DLA Piper, set up meetings for the Saudis with House leadership. And in the midst of the fight, the Saudis hired former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, the Mississippi Republican, and the deal-making former Louisiana Democrat John Breaux, both currently at Squire Patton Boggs, to a $100,000, one-year lobbying contract.
Ultimately, the Saudis lost the 9/11 legislation fight in dramatic fashion when the House and Senate overrode Obama’s veto — the first veto override of his presidency. But the four former members — all registered as “foreign agents” with the Justice Department — will still get paid.
Coleman, in particular, has benefited from a recent ramp-up in Saudi lobby spending. Since 2014, the Saudi Embassy has paid $2.1 million to Coleman’s firm, Hogan Lovells LLP, to help give it a second bite at the Washington apple, making him one of the biggest players in a lucrative niche of the lobbying business: former members of Congress who lobby for foreign governments or corporations, and particularly ones that straddle the line between U.S. ally and U.S. headache.
Of the 1,009 members of Congress who have left Capitol Hill since 1990, 114 of them — just over 11 percent — lobbied for or otherwise represented a foreign government, foreign-owned company or think tank, according to a POLITICO review of records filed with the tiny DOJ office charged with enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a 1938 law passed to deal with the threat of Nazi propagandists in the United States.
The top 10 former lawmakers-turned-foreign-agents, according to POLITICO’s review, include a wide range of retired members, including congressional leaders and presidential contenders like Dick Gephardt, rank-and-file members like Albert Wynn and back-bench bomb-throwers like former Florida Rep. Connie Mack IV, each of whom worked on FARA contracts bringing more than $1 million to their respective firms in 2015.
At the top of the list is former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), who is registered to lobby for Qatar, Uganda and Nigeria, among others; those contracts brought nearly $4 million to his firm, Mercury Public Affairs, in 2015. Weber’s firm drew scrutiny last month after it was linked to Ukrainian lobbying done by Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, in an Associated Press report. Former members-turned-lobbyists aren’t shying away from controversial foreign clients looking to bolster their Beltway influence or simply elevate their own political brand. Far from it.
A POLITICO review of FARA spending records shows that Middle Eastern monarchies and former Soviet bloc nations, including Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Hungary, are becoming some of the top spenders on Washington lobbying — and they’re often hiring former members. Saudi Arabia, for instance, reported $1 million in spending in 2000; last year, it reported more than $13 million, part of a ramp-up in lobbying that’s made the kingdom one of many up-and-comers in the Washington foreign influence game.
Turkey is the poster child when it comes to foreign lobbying opportunities for former members of both parties. In recent years, the country’s increasingly autocratic government has employed an army of lobbyists, including Gephardt, Lott, Breaux, former House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston (R-La.), the late Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), former CIA director and longtime House member Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and former Reps. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) and Jim McCrery (R-La.).
The favorable treatment these former lawmakers seek for their clients often bumps against U.S. foreign policy or the interests of the constituents they once served, and, in some cases, they are putting foreign companies over U.S. businesses, whether the issue is recognizing the Armenian genocide or sanctioning a Belarusian potash company. While a former lawmaker’s relationships don’t always yield concrete results, they can open doors for foreign leaders, like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, looking to burnish their country’s reputation — or their own.
“Former members have a pretty good idea of what the thinking may be on something and can read the tea leaves. They can say, ‘Hey, look this person is probably not going to be for you,’” Castle told POLITICO.
Right now, the forecast is for instability, and that is good for business. The Obama administration’s shifting approach to traditional foes and allies in the Middle East following the Arab Spring, the growth of right-wing populism in Eastern Europe, tensions with Russia, the refugee crisis and an unprecedented presidential campaign, in which a novice candidate has questioned U.S. alliances and broken diplomatic conventions, are prompting governments to explore the need for lobbying representation in Washington. “I’ve actually had more meetings in the last few weeks than I’ve had in a long time with potential clients,” Coleman told POLITICO earlier this year. “In one way, this presidential election is probably good for business.”
Castle and Coleman both leverage their access to key Republicans for the Saudis, who’ve faced a steadily growing image problem in the United States since the 2001 attacks, despite their status as a linchpin of the U.S. security umbrella in the Persian Gulf, and were shaken by the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with arch-enemies in Iran.
When Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir visited Washington in early February to address concerns about a lack of Saudi help in fighting ISIL in Syria, for example, Coleman arranged — and sat in on — meetings with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Armed Services Chairman John McCain and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, according to DOJ records. Coleman’s firm, Hogan Lovells, earned $855,000 from the Saudis in 2015. And Castle is registered to work on behalf of the Saudis and the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz — where U.S. base closures are an issue — on contracts that brought his firm $699,554.69 in 2015.
Where lobbyists see an opportunity, critics see something distasteful at work: former lawmakers working on behalf of a foreign entity with very different interests than the constituents they served while in Congress. And, often, those critics also see hypocrisy. When Coleman was a senator, for example, he signed on to a 2005 letter to the George W. Bush administration, with 14 other senators, that was harshly critical of Saudi Arabia, in part for its funding of mosques that promoted hatred of Jews and the United States.
“There are so many ethical and moral issues surrounding this. It’s important for people to know what’s going on,” says former Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican who represented northern Virginia’s 10th District for 34 years. After retiring in 2015, he went to work for Baylor University on religious freedom issues and to “lead Baylor’s efforts on Capitol Hill,” according to the school.
Wolf is primarily concerned with former members who lobby on behalf of a subset of countries with poor human rights records or suspect records on terrorism. He puts China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in that category. “I think that’s wrong,” Wolf says. “I don’t care who’s doing it.”
In 2012, Wolf introduced legislation that would have barred any elected official at the federal level from lobbying for a foreign entity for 10 years after leaving Congress. It didn’t go anywhere on Capitol Hill, and neither have the DOJ’s own requests for Congress to enhance its ability to crack down on individuals who skirt the foreign lobbying laws by failing to register under FARA.
Norm Coleman arranged — and sat in on — meetings with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Armed Services Chairman John McCain and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr | Win McNamee/Getty Images
Senate Homeland Security Committee Hears Testimony On WMD Report
The FARA taint
Lobbying firms and former members think long and hard before they decide whether to register under FARA, which — under the letter of the law, at least — requires extensive disclosure of all contacts with government officials and all promotional materials. That’s because, in some circles, foreign lobbying amounts to a scarlet letter, and it’s generally a no-go for any former members hoping to work again in politics or government. Registering under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), on the other hand, requires virtually no documentation.
“Just the name ‘foreign agent’ turns a lot of people off,” says one Washington lawyer who works on FARA issues.
The stigma — real or perceived — around foreign lobbying pops up in the email trove from the now-notorious private server of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In an email exchange, Lanny Davis, a Washington lobbyist and noted Clintonista who has lobbied for St. Kitts, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast and others, asks Clinton if she’ll provide a comment for a cover story that American Lawyer magazine is writing about him — but then thinks better of it. “I am registered under FARA for one or more foreign governments or businesses. I don’t think it would look right. I want to avoid any even slight chance of misperception,” Davis writes.
The irony, however, is that the stigma is largely reputational, and the risk of getting in trouble with the FARA office is usually minimal.
While the penalties for FARA violations include up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, a long-anticipated report released by the DOJ’s inspector general in September — originally prompted by former Rep. Wolf — found that Justice brought only seven criminal cases using FARA from 1966 to 2015. Only one of the individuals charged was convicted at trial; according to the report, two pleaded guilty to FARA charges, two were convicted on non-FARA charges and two saw their cases dismissed.
One of the convictions under FARA involved a former member of the House: Mark Deli Siljander (R-Mich.), who was thrown in jail for a year and a day in 2010 after he lied about lobbying the Senate Finance Committee on behalf of an Islamic charity that the government had linked to terrorism.
Working out of a small office housed on the first floor of the Justice Department building, the FARA team has no power “to compel the production of information from persons who may be agents,” the report states. Moreover, it’s small, poorly funded and relies on voluntary compliance; it usually investigates possible failures to register only when its staff reads about them in the media.
That’s exactly what happened in September when the AP reported a series of possible FARA violations surrounding Manafort, who had made millions of dollars years before representing the authoritarian former president of Ukraine.
Manafort had steered at least $2.2 million in payments from a pro-Russian governing party in Ukraine to Washington lobbying firms Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC. Podesta is headed by uber-lobbyist Tony Podesta, the brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta; Mercury is chaired by former Rep. Weber, the lobbying powerhouse who represented Minnesota’s 2nd District from 1983 to 1992. While the two firms say they concluded there was no obligation to disclose their work in this case, the DOJ and the FBI have opened investigations into both.
The Justice Department’s inspector general report, which was released around the time of the Manafort revelations, also found that 62 percent of initial FARA registrations were filed late and that half of all registrants filed at least one piece of paperwork late. Watchdogs say these paperwork problems, while minor-sounding, prevent journalists and the public from getting a true picture of the influence game. Still, many foreign agents, like most of the former lawmakers interviewed by POLITICO, play it safe: They register under FARA and provide at least a modicum of information about their lobbying contacts.
“Some people don’t care” about the stigma, notes Joseph Sandler, a former general counsel to the Democratic National Committee who is now with Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C., and is regarded as an expert on FARA regulation. “Everybody’s got business in the U.S., and everybody wants to [improve] their image with the U.S. government.”
The proportion of former lawmakers registering as foreign lobbyists did drop off a bit after a change in lobbying laws in in the late 1990s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re avoiding the foreign lobbying game. According to the Justice Department OIG, the number of active FARA registrations peaked in 1987 at 916 before falling sharply in the mid-1990s. One of the likely reasons is that the Lobbying Disclosure Act, enacted in 1995, effectively created a FARA exemption: individuals lobbying for foreign corporations no longer had to register under FARA, as long as they registered under the LDA, which has far looser transparency and disclosure requirements.
It’s worth noting that not every “foreign agent” former lawmaker is technically a lobbyist. Former Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) gets paid $270,000 annually as president and CEO of the Korean Economic Institute — a U.S.-based nonprofit think tank that is fully funded by a South Korean government-affiliated think tank in Seoul, and which spent more than $2.5 million in 2015. Unlike some U.S.-based think tanks that have courted controversy by taking foreign money but not registering under FARA, KEI is open in touting its effort to strengthen U.S.-Korean relations, Manzullo says. “I don’t lobby,” he told POLITICO. “And I don’t raise money.”
For former members-turned-foreign-agents, the job isn’t always to make things happen — it’s often to ensure that things don’t happen. Sometimes the mission is image protection for wayward allies or managing expectation about the legislative process for confused foreign governments, particularly the more autocratic ones. One former lawmaker who’s lobbied for foreign entities tells POLITICO that “you’ve just got to make sure that everything you’re doing complies with U.S. law, because what a lot of these people would like to do would end up putting you in jail, because it’s just the way they do business.”
Of course, hiring big-name former lawmakers doesn’t always get a foreign government much bang for its buck; some current and former government officials say that former members often don’t provide much more than an expensive method of securing the meetings that capable ambassadors and diplomats should be getting themselves. (For all its seeming intrigue, some FARA work is mundane. Ambassadors, for instance, will hire lobbyists to meet their yearly quotas for meetings with top officials, said one lobbying source.)
Part of the job — particularly with less-than-democratic governments — is managing expectations about how the U.S. system works. But also lobbyists benefit when foreign governments get worried about relatively minor legislative events, which can mean dollar signs for U.S. firms.
Above all, it’s about access — securing meetings with lawmakers and administration officials that a country’s official diplomatic representation in Washington will sometimes struggle to secure.
As David Szabo, program director at the Századvég School of Politics Foundation in Budapest, Hungary, puts it: “There are more and more examples of ethnic lobbying or national lobbying. Nowadays, if you want to achieve something in Washington, you need to have [it].”
That, he says, is why Hungary hired Connie Mack IV.
Burnishing tarnished images
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — an avowed admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin — was looking to counter growing suspicion from Washington in 2014 as he steered his Central European nation of 10 million in a more autocratic direction amid charges of corruption and anti-Semitism. The State Department had even barred several Hungarian officials from visiting the United States over corruption concerns.
Meanwhile, Mack, who represented Florida’s Gulf Coast 14th District from 2005 to 2013, was fresh off a losing 2012 Senate bid and looking to ramp up his new lobbying practice. Through Eastern European political and business connections, the two sides linked up. As part of a multiyear, $5 million contract split among the Szazadveg Foundation and Mack’s lobbying firms — SLI Group and Liberty International — the former congressman became Orbán’s man in Washington.
A Hungarian soldier looks down on migrants queueing for food at the Serbia and Hungary border crossing in Horgos
ALSO ON POLITICO
Hungary’s ‘zero refugee’ strategy
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, left, meets Belgium's Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders at Egmont Palace in Brussels on July 19
ALSO ON POLITICO
‘Never write off Saudi Arabia’
Mack struck many in Hungarian activist and diplomatic circles as a curious choice for the job. Hardly a top-tier Republican power player, he remains better known for his family ties: his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III; his great-grandfather and legendary baseball manager, Connie Mack; and his ex-wife, former Rep. Mary Bono, who won election to the House in 1998 to replace her first husband, singer and politician Sonny Bono.
But his seeming celebrity was a selling point in Hungary. (Mack “is basically a great name in U.S. politics,” says Szabo.)
Mack is paid directly by Orbán’s office, not the Hungarian Embassy in Washington. His job is to burnish the image of the oft-vilified prime minister by working the media and his former colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. FARA records show that Mack disseminated information and spoke with members of the panel — including House Foreign Affairs Europe Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and ranking Democrat Gregory Meeks of New York, Randy Weber (R-Texas), Ted Poe (R-Texas), William Keating (D-Mass.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.) — about “Strengthening US/Gov. of Hungary Relations,” according to FARA filings, in advance of a May 2015 Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S.-Hungarian relations.
After months of negative press, “the witnesses painted a rather balanced picture,” Szabo says of the hearing. “The work that Connie did with this hearing … had a great impact.”
Later, Mack defended Orbán during the migrant crisis in Europe, as the Hungarian prime minister was slammed in the international media for building a fence on Hungary’s border and issuing xenophobic diatribes about Muslim refugees fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa.
“It’s not what’s in his heart,” Mack told POLITICO last year, sitting in his downtown Washington office next to a guitar autographed by the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the green bleacher seats used by his Hall of Fame great-grandfather when he was thrown out of games at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park. Mack cast Orbán as a prescient leader whose moves would defend Europe against terrorists from ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Part of Mack’s appeal to Hungary was that his conservative politics jibe with the way many of his former GOP colleagues viewed the world. It didn’t hurt that one of Orbán’s biggest foes in Hungary is none other than Hungarian native and billionaire George Soros, also a huge Democratic fundraiser and GOP boogeyman. Mack maintains that Orbán’s more controversial anti-refugee statements were being manipulated and distorted by activists and journalists funded by Soros, though there was no evidence of this.
With the future of Hungary’s military and energy relationships with the United States seemingly at risk because of the corruption and migrant crisis tensions, Mack made the rounds with Orbán when he visited New York last year for the U.N. General Assembly. His job: figuring out “how to take the same message, but put it in terms consistent with how in America we consume information,” he told POLITICO.
Rohrabacher, who has a much-publicized soft spot for Putin-era Russia, told POLITICO in a brief interview that Mack “knows all of us, and he has direct contact with the top people here. That’s the kind of communication a lot of countries need.”
FARA records show that Connie Mack disseminated information and spoke with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about “Strengthening US/Gov. of Hungary Relations,” in advance of a May 2015 Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S.-Hungarian relations | Stan Honda/AFP/GettyImages
Mack’s two firms, SLI Group and Liberty International, received a total of $1,057,233.89 in 2015 from Orbán’s office (some of which was paid to another firm, Levick, for which Mack was a partner until earlier this year). This made him the fourth-highest earning former member in the FARA lobbying game in 2015. And he’s brought in a total of $1.2 million in fees from Orbán’s office from late 2014 to February 2016, according to FARA filings.
Still, it’s unclear what Mack has been doing for Hungary more recently. He was actively involved in lobbying for his domestic clients against a Puerto Rican economic assistance bill earlier this year — drawing the ire of House Republican leaders — but his FARA records show little activity on behalf of Hungary this year.
Hungary is just one European country upping its lobbying efforts in Washington. The Balkan government of Albania, for example, paid nearly $480,000 to Tom Ridge, former House member, Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security secretary, and his firm in 2007 to lobby Congress in its effort to join NATO and the European Union. The country joined NATO in 2009 — though it’s still waiting on that invitation to join the EU.
A POLITICO review of more FARA records shows that nations like Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Belarus — some of which face frequent criticism over their human rights records — have vastly ramped up their spending in recent years into the six- and seven-figure range as they’ve sought to safeguard energy relationships or boost military ties with the United States.
When Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) introduced legislation in July 2015 that would have slapped sanctions on Belaruskali, a potash producer in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, the company wasted little time in securing Washington representation, signing a contract with Greenberg Traurig LLP within two weeks, according to FARA files.
That kind of reaction is typical, say lobbying sources, particularly when it comes to officials from more autocratic governments where the legislative process is little more than a rubber stamp.
“What happens is that when they read someone has said something, they kind of look at it and say, ‘Wow, this is really going to happen. This is now the law.’ Because in their country, when people say something, this is a done deal,” said the former lawmaker who has worked with foreign entities.
The company had formerly been under the umbrella of a state-owned firm called Belneftekhim that was controlled by autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko — the country’s only leader since the Berlin Wall fell and Belarus became independent. The firm, which accounted for 35 percent of exports in a country that accounted for nearly one-fifth of the world’s potash trade, was sanctioned by the U.S. government after a flawed 2006 election that saw Lukashenko stay in power amid widespread reports of human rights violations.
When Belaruskali split off from the umbrella company, the New Mexico delegation and others in Washington warned that it was simply a ploy to evade sanctions. The Pearce bill would also have benefited his home-state potash industry, which accounted for 75 percent of U.S. production in 2012, according to the Department of Interior.
Former Rep. Wynn, who had served on Foreign Affairs, and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who had served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, were put on the case on behalf of Belaruski. Hoekstra stopped lobbying on behalf of Greenberg Traurig LLP shortly after, but former Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) soon started working on behalf of the company.
In early August 2015, Europe Subcommittee Chair Rohrabacher and Meeks joined Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) on a congressional delegation trip to Belarus. While there, the congressmen met with Lukashenko to push him to make good on democratic reforms. They also met with senior executives from the potash company, who asked about Pearce’s bill. Meeks tells POLITICO the potash meeting “wasn’t the focus of the trip.”
Rohrabacher said he thinks Hoekstra helped organize the meeting with half a dozen company officials. “We developed a very close and trusting relationship when he was in Congress and I always respected him. So when he recommended the meeting I, of course, took him up on the offer.”
Hoekstra and Bass declined to comment on their work on behalf of the potash firm; Wynn did not respond to POLITICO queries.
Wynn followed up with Meeks’ office within weeks of their return from Belarus, bringing Belarusian potash industry officials up to the Hill for meetings. Officials from Belaruskali also visited with Rohrabacher.
Rohrabacher called the meeting “a very fine education on one of the main ingredients of the Belarusian economy.” He even has a piece of potash that he displays proudly in his office, given to him by Belaruskali. “I have it on my wall. I got a lot of wild things on my wall.”
Whether the lobbying helped or was inconsequential, the result was a good one for the Belarusians: The bill never even made it to a committee markup. As of the end of April 2016, Belaruskali and its affiliated sales and marketing firm had paid almost $611,201.84 to Greenberg Traurig following the signing of the initial contract, according to a POLITICO analysis of FARA records.
Benefiting from turmoil
While France and Japan dominated the FARA spending game 15 years ago, some of the biggest money right now is in the region that’s factored most in the U.S. government’s foreign policy since Sept. 11, 2001— the Middle East. FARA totals compiled by the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation show that in 2013, the top FARA spenders were the United Arab Emirates at $14.1 million, Germany at $12 million, Canada at $11.2 million, Saudi Arabia at $11.2 million and Mexico at $6.1 million.
Spending from Western allies like Canada, Germany, Japan and France tends to be focused around specific trade and business legislation or regulatory decisions — think the Keystone XL pipeline. But the UAE, which spent less than $1 million in 2000, saw the need to expand its U.S. influence spending — and hired former Senate Majority Leader and GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole to represent it for a time — in the wake of the 2006 Dubai Ports World controversy. Under pressure from a Congress still gripped by post-9/11 security concerns, plans for UAE-owned Dubai Ports World to take over management of a series of U.S. ports were scuttled.
Turkey, however, has been a constant player in the Washington lobbying world — and it’s a prime example of the role former lawmakers play, and the controversy that it often comes with.
Take Turkey’s most prominent Washington lobbyist — Gephardt, a former House minority leader and two-time contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. During his time in the House representing Missouri, Gephardt was a champion for the Armenian-American community’s top priority in Washington: getting Congress to adopt a resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman government in the run-up to World War I as a genocide.
It has been perennially opposed by the presidents of both parties — Obama promised on the campaign trail to recognize the genocide, but has not done so — thanks to vociferous opposition from Turkey, a member of NATO that has been critical in the U.S. military’s ability to wage war in the Middle East.
But after joining the private sector and taking Turkey as a client, Gephardt made a striking turnabout, lobbying his former colleagues on Capitol Hill to vote against the genocide resolution. His backflip on the issue has earned him charges of hypocrisy and even a boycott campaign by Armenian-Americans, as the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported earlier this year.
The Gephardt Group received $1.7 million from the government of Turkey in 2015, according to FARA filings. The firm declined to make Gephardt available for an interview with POLITICO, saying only, “The policy of the firm is to not comment on clients to the press.”
Lobbying for Turkey is only going to get more controversial. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s heavy-handed response to a failed July coup attempt and his security goons’ manhandling of journalists during a recent visit to Washington, have been straining his relations with the White House and on Capitol Hill.
But lobbying shops are more than willing to take the business. Just after the coup, Turkey went out and hired APCO Worldwide for two weeks of August work, for a fee of $74,200 (among the registrants is Dan Scandling, a former aide to former Rep. Wolf, the FARA critic).
And Turkey’s lobbying often has an impact. Adam Schiff, a House Democrat from California’s diverse 28th District in Los Angeles County and one of the Armenian-American community’s staunchest allies in Congress, recalls offering a surprise amendment at a 2005 markup of the foreign aid spending bill that would have directed the State Department to study the genocide issue.
“They recessed the committee while Bob Livingston and Stephen Solarz were dispatched to the committee to lobby. These two very powerful former members on both sides,” Schiff says, referring to the fact that Livingston is a Republican and Solarz was a Democrat.
“That was an extreme illustration of the extent to which the Turkish lobby [would go] to hire the most influential former members,” Schiff says.
“It undoubtedly has an influence,” says Schiff. “It’s a lot to overcome.”
Nicole Narea, Andrew Hanna and Manuela Tobias contributed to this report.
Authors: oseph J. Schatz and Benjamin Oreskes