Middle East, New in Lobbying, US states

Saudi lobby hires ex-aide to Maine’s King in play for US heartland

The public relations firm leading Saudi Arabia’s outreach to the US heartland has hired a former communications director for Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) in its latest move to help improve the kingdom’s image among US voters.

Iowa public relations shop Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (dba LS2group) hired Crystal Canney as a part-time political consultant on June 15. A former state government official, Canney led communications for King’s successful 2012 Senate run before joining his staff in Washington. She is now CEO of the Knight Canney Group in Portland.

Canney is expected to “provide strategic and government affairs advice, public relations and communications advice and services, outreach and engagement with the public and media groups, and oversight of other consultants” as part of her contribution to LS2group’s $126,500-a-month contract with the Saudi Embassy in Washington. “The activities … will include informing government officials and the media about the importance of fostering and promoting relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Neither Canney nor LS2group responded to requests for comment.

The public relations push comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to portray itself as a modernizing society with a vision for a post-oil economy while also defending its regional record, notably regarding its bloody air campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. King has been one of the kingdom’s vocal critics on Capitol Hill, voting to end US support for its military operations in Yemen and publicly denouncing the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Canney’s requested oversight of LS2group’s consultants comes as one of them, former South Dakota state senator Dan Lederman, has drawn public attention to LS2group’s work for its controversial client. Earlier this year, a group of local Republican officials demanded that he resign from his post as chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party, arguing that he had a conflict of interest because of his work “against American citizens on behalf of a foreign government.”

LS2group has one other consultant working on the account: Kathleen Summers-Grice, a political consultant who notably worked on the 2008 presidential campaign of the late Sen. Fred Thompson, Republican of Tennessee. Summers-Grice now runs Eaton River Strategies in Maine.

The rural state has been a strong focus for LS2group. Vice-President James Tobin, a former senior Republican National Committee official who served as President George W. Bush‘s New England campaign chairman, notably helped set up an appearance by embassy spokesman Fahad Nazer on Maine talk radio in February.

In addition to Maine and its home state of Iowa, LS2group has also targeted other states though subcontracts with Summit Information Services of Colorado and Hathaway Strategies of Indiana.