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Daily Digest for Monday, June 1

Welcome to Foreign Lobby Report’s end-of-the-day roundup, where you’ll find all our latest stories plus links to related Washington news.


Quebec power company hires advertising muscle to help sway Maine voters on transmission line

A Canadian public utility has hired an advertising firm to help convince Maine residents to approve a cross-border transmission line largely opposed by the rural state’s powerful environmental lobby.

H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.), a subsidiary of Montreal-based Hydro-Quebec, retained Yarmouth-based Blaze Partners in December to “provide strategic advice, digital media planning/buying and public relations services” ahead of a potential fall vote on the so-called New England Clean Energy Connect project, according to recently disclosed lobbying filings with the US Justice Department. Key state regulators have already approved the $1 billion, 145-mile transmission line to bring hydropower to the regional grid from Quebec but opponents are seeking to get a referendum question on the November ballot.

Read the full story here.

Zionist group invokes Trump antisemitism order to challenge pro-Palestinian org’s tax exempt status

A New York-based pro-Israel group has latched onto President Donald Trump’s December anti-Semitism order in the first known legal maneuver invoking the recent executive edict to challenge a pro-Palestinian organization’s tax-exempt status.

Lawyer David Abrams, the executive director of the Zionist Advocacy Center, laid out his case in a May 26 letter to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a newly disclosed lobbying filing with the US Department of Justice. In the letter, Abrams cites EO 13899 to allege that the Wespac Foundation
“supports unlawful discriminatory harassment on American college campuses against Jewish students,” which he argues contravenes the president’s executive order.

Read the full story here.

Hong Kong’s US trade envoy moves to calm business jitters

The Donald Trump administration’s decision to roll back the special relationship with Hong Kong has left the territory’s US trade mission rushing to reassure an increasingly jittery international business community while trying to stay clear of the escalating feud between the United States and China.

In an exclusive interview with Foreign Lobby Report soon after Trump made his remarks Friday in the Rose Garden, the regional director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council said his office had no plans to lobby the White House or Congress to back off. Rather, Ralph Chow said, the aim is to seek as much clarity as possible about Trump’s next steps while countering US messaging that Hong Kong has lost the “high degree of autonomy” that China promised when it retook control from the British in 1997.

Read the full story here.



Anti-Islam group restarts lobbying activities

The controversial nonprofit organization headed by anti-Islam firebrand Brigitte Gabriel renewed its lobbying operations today following a months-long hiatus.

Gregory Allen, who is listed as ACT! for America‘s chief operating officer on the organization’s 2018 tax filing, is notably expected to lobby on anti-terrorism legislation, support for Israel, immigration restrictions and efforts to curtail Chinese influence.

The filing comes just days after ACT submitted a late lobbying filing indicating it had stopped lobbying on Oct. 1, 2019 after spending $720,000 over the past decade to champion right-wing national security legislation on Capitol Hill. Lisa Piraneo, the previous lobbyist on the account, joined the US State Department as a senior adviser to the US Mission to the United Nations in April 2020, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Neither Gabriel nor Piraneo responded to requests for comment.

ACT and Piraneo first registered to lobby in April 2009. Gabriel, a Lebanese-born Christian, formed the group in 2007 to push back against what she called the “threat of radical Islam,” including unfounded accusations that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the Barack Obama administration. ACT has been called a hate group by liberal organizations including the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Piraneo, a former staffer to ex-Reps. Sue Myrick, R-S.C., Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Robert Walker, R-Penn., served as ACT’s director of government relations from 2009 to 2016 and continued to lobby for the group after setting up her own consulting firm, Camvia, in 2017. ACT has notably lobbied for anti-Shariah and counter-terrorism legislation but has increasingly focused on current Republican priorities, including building a wall at the US border with Mexico and adopting a tough line against China.

Gabriel boasted of having a “direct line” to the White House following President Donald Trump‘s election, but recent events suggest ACT has been losing influence. The week after ACT shut down its lobbying operations, the Trump Organization cancelled the group’s annual fundraiser that had been scheduled to take place at the president’s private club at Mar-a-Lago following a slew of negative publicity.

At the time, Gabriel denounced what she called “a full throttle smear campaign” and launched an online fundraising petition. The effort raised $13,253, far short of the $50,000 sought, according to Gabriel’s Facebook fundraiser page.


South Korean semiconductor company hires third lobby firm as US scrutiny grows

The US subsidiary of a major South Korean semiconductor company has hired its third lobbying firm as chip makers face mounting scrutiny from Washington. SK hynix America, the US subsidiary of SK hynix, hired Invariant to lobby on “general trade and investment issues.” The registration was effective April 11.

Nicole Venable, the firm’s Democratic strategist, is the sole lobbyist registered on the account. She is a former lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce and ex-chief of staff for Rep. William Jefferson, D-La.

SK hynix America spent more than $2.3 million on in-house lobbying in 2019. In the first quarter of 2020 alone, the company’s in-house lobbying arm spent more than $1.1 million to lobby more than a dozen federal agencies and offices on “general trade and investment issues.”

The US subsidiary already had two outside lobbying firms. Squire Patton Boggs was brought on in March 2018 and was paid $390,000 last year and $290,000 in the first quarter of this year; Harbinger Strategies, which has lobbied on the account since November 2018, was paid $200,000 in 2019 and $50,000 in the first quarter of 2020.

Chinese communications giant Huawei reportedly makes up 14% of SK hynix’s sales. In May, the Donald Trump administration banned chipmakers using US technology from supplying the Chinese company without a license from the federal government.


Lobby shops disclose client’s Chinese links as US pressure grows

Two US lobbying firms have amended years-old domestic lobbying filings to note that a former client was wholly owned by the Chinese government at the time they were hired. Ballard Partners and S-3 Group updated their 2018 registrations for work on behalf of California-based solar energy company REC Americas, disclosing that the company was owned by Bluestar Elkem, a division of the state-owned China National Chemical Corporation.

The deficient filings were flagged and corrected by William Farah, managing partner at the Berke Farah law firm in Washington, who serves as counsel to both Ballard and S-3, Foreign Lobby Report has learned. Farah did not respond to a request for comment about what prompted the belated action, which comes amid increased scrutiny of Chinese foreign influence efforts by Congress and the Donald Trump administration.

Ballard worked for REC from February through May 2018 and was paid $100,000 during that time to lobby the White House, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) and the National Economic Council regarding solar panel trade policy and tariffs. Registered to lobby on the account were the firm’s founder, former Trump Florida lobbyist Brian Ballard, along with former Special Assistant US Attorney Sylvester Lukis and former congressional staffer Michael McFaul.

At the time of registration, Ballard disclosed that REC was owned by Norwegian company REC Solar Holdings. China’s Bluestar however announced as far back as 2014 however that it was buying REC Solar for $640 million.

“We originally filed the disclosure when we did the work [in 2018] and we did note the foreign ownership that we understood it to be at the time,” said Ballard partner Justin Sayfie. “We later learned about additional ownership in the client and when we learned about it we made the change in the disclosure so that it accurately reflected the ownership of the company at the time that we did the work.”

S-3 for its part received $10,000 to lobby USTR on behalf of REC Americas in the fall of 2018. Working the account were Kate Dickens, former chief of staff to ex-Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., former House Appropriations Committee communications director John Scofield and Matt Bravo, former director of floor operations for then-Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. S-3 did not respond to a request for comment.


Mercury re-ups Haiti contract, adds Coons ex-staffer

Mercury Public Affairs has signed a new contract with parent company Mercury International UK to represent the Haitian presidency while adding the former chief of staff to Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Coons, D-Del., to the account.

The contract, dated May 21, covers the period of Jan. 6, 2020 to Jan. 5, 2021. New York-based Mercury is slated to provide “lobbying, public relations, and media relations services, including print, television, radio, and digital messaging and outreach to US media.”

Mercury has represented the office of President Jovenel Moise since February 2018. While the new contract does not specify fees, Mercury’s previous contract with Mercury International UK was for $4,690 per month.

Former Coons staffer Adam Bramwell, who joined Mercury as a managing director in the Washington office in late April, registered as a foreign agent on the Haiti account on May 26. He joins Zharina ArnaldoLucy Ann DargahiRodney EmeryGraham HaileBryan LanzaMorris ReidMolly ToomeyAlexander WalkerBenjamin Westlake-Tritton and Louis Wilson on the account.

The new tract was signed by Mercury International UK’s Morris Reid and Mercury Public Affairs CEO Kieran Mahoney.

Separately, the government of Haiti is also represented by Dentons US and Johanna LeBlanc, while Sorini Samet & Associates lobbies for L’Association des Industries d’Haiti (ADIH), a non-profit organization representing Haitian manufacturers.


SoftBank California subsidiary joins lobbying scramble for coronavirus relief

A California renewable energy subsidiary of embattled Japanese conglomerate SoftBank has joined the rapidly rising ranks of companies scrambling for their piece of federal government coronavirus assistance. SB Energy DevCo has hired Peck Madigan Jones to lobby for “relief” from Covid-19 and for investment tax credits. The newly disclosed effort was effective April 16.

Registered to lobby on the account are former Democratic congressional aide and Barack Obama transition staffer John Michael Gonzalez along with several former Republican staffers: Jen Olson, a former aide to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Jeff Shapiro, who served as chief of staff to Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb.; and Drew Cantor, who worked for Senate Republican Conference. Peck Madigan trade practice co-leader Kristen Harper rounds out the team.

Softbank itself has retained the services of Fierce Government Relations and Subject Matter since last year, paying them $60,000 each in the first quarter of 2020. Softbank also spent almost $1.9 million on in-house lobbying in 2019 and $1.2 million in the first quarter of 2020 alone, including for lobbying on the roughly $2 trillion CARES Act for coronavirus relief.

Softbank and its founder Masayoshi Son have been mired in controversy amid a $13 billion operating loss for 2019 fueled by bad bets on WeWork and Uber. After comparing himself to a misunderstood Jesus Christ, Son eventually acknowledged that he was at fault for the losses.



Cuba: The State Department’s determination adding Cuba to the list of countries “not cooperating fully” with US anti-terrorism effort (joining North Korea, Iran, Syria and Venezuela) will be published in Tuesday’s Federal Register. Jason Blazakis has more about what this could mean over at Lawfare.

Venezuela: State Department offers $5 million Transnational Organized Crime reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of National Superintendent of Cryptoactive and Related Activities Joselit de la Trinidad Ramirez Camacho.

Venezuela: The Congressional Research Service has updated its overview of US sanctions.


The main US pro-Israel lobby AIPAC has cancelled its 2021 annual policy conference in Washington, citing concerns about COVID-19.

South African investigative nonprofit amaBhungane has published eight alleged kickback arrangements between South Africa‘s Gupta family, companies making up Chinese rail group CRRC, and South Africa’s state-owned Transnet. Squire Patton Boggs and Elevate Government Affairs are registered to lobby for US subsidiaries of CRRC.