Middle East, New in Lobbying, Regional conflicts, US states

Former Michigan GOP chair wrangled state Republicans for Qatar

The former head of the Michigan Republican Party helped wrangle GOP state lawmakers for a Qatari government-funded trip to the Gulf emirate last year, new lobbying filings reveal.

Saulius “Saul” Anuzis’ Coast to Coast Strategies disclosed its consulting work on behalf of the Qatar-America Institute this week after the Department of Justice required the institute to register as an agent of the Qatari government, as Foreign Lobby Report first reported last week. In the new filing, Anuzis reveals that the institute agreed to pay his firm almost $190,000 in 2019 to assist in “recruiting, organizing, escorting and making arrangements” for a Qatar-America Leadership Exchange delegation to Doha.

Anuzis himself was expected to be paid $123,000, according to his personal filing. He described the trip simply as a “cultural, people to people exchange” in an email to Foreign Lobby Report.

Even so, it came with a heavy dose of geopolitics. Doha spends millions of dollars each year to push back against attacks from right-wing media and Qatar’s Gulf rivals over the country’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran (the Qatar-America Institute in its own filing last week said it paid Coast to Coast $219,000 for the Doha trip in October 2019).

Additional lobbying filings show that seven people participated in last year’s delegation: Oklahoma House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols; Nebraska sate senators Andrew La Grone and Julie Slama; former Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson; Arizona state representative Ben Toma; National Young Republican Federation Chairman Jason Emert; and Bradley Ellison, a city councilman from Oakland Township in Michigan. The delegates notably toured cultural sites as well as government offices, Al Jazeera headquarters and Al-Udeid, home to the largest US military base in the Middle East.

During the visit, the delegates learned that Qatar is an “open and diverse country” and a “strong military partner of the United States” that “works closely with its allies to combat terrorism and terrorism financing” and is a “regional leader in protecting workers’ rights,” especially those building stadiums and accommodations for the 2022 World Cup, according to Anuzis’ filings. All of those assertions have come under increasing scrutiny as the Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched campaigns to tarnish Qatar’s reputation in Washington and across the country since launching an embargo against the tiny energy-rich state in June 2017.

The trip appears to have paid dividends.

Soon after returning from the delegation, the National Young Republican Federation’s Emert appeared on former Donald Trump campaign official John Fredericks‘ radio show to tout the US-Qatari partnership. The Qatar-America Institute promptly posted the interview on its web site. In yet another twist in Qatar’s multi-pronged influence campaign, it turns out that the institute paid Fredericks’ show $180,000 to promote pro-Qatar content, the Daily Beast reported last week.