Asia, Energy, New in Lobbying, US-China tensions

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.