Americas, Elections, New in Lobbying, Sanctions

Guyana opposition drops lobby firm in the middle of electoral dispute

Guyana’s opposition party has parted ways with its US lobbying firm in the middle of an electoral dispute over who will be the next president of the oil-rich country.

Mercury Public Affairs terminated its contract with the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) effective July 9, according to a new filing with the Department of Justice. The left-leaning party hired Mercury back in March 2019 ahead of the general election that was held on March 2, 2020.

The termination comes as the PPP is in the middle of an international campaign to pressure incumbent David Granger to step down in favor of PPP candidate Irfaan Ali. Granger’s camp insists a recount shows he won, but international bodies including the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Organization of American States (OAS) have called on him to cede power, as have several US officials.

Foreign agents registered on the account included former Rep. Jose Antonio Garcia, Democrat of Florida, and Bryan Lanza, a 2016 Donald Trump campaign and transition official. Mercury Co-Chairman Gustavo Arnavat was also registered on the contract, along with Beth Helene DeFalco, Rodney Emery, Hannah Kikano (nee Eibensteiner) and Christopher Murphy. This was the only foreign client for Arnavat and Kikano.

Mercury’s initial contract, for $150,000, was only supposed to last three months. Later filings however indicate the firm was disseminating materials in favor of the PPP as recently as May 2020.

Neither Mercury nor the PPP responded to requests for comment about the timing of the termination.

The PPP still has allies in Washington, however. The International Center for Democracy, a New York nonprofit close to the PPP, has hired the Cormac Group to lobby on its behalf. The Cormac Group in turn has Otto Reich & Associates and Thomas Kahn, a former House Budget Committee staff director with extensive experience as an election observer and adviser.

New lobbying disclosures show Otto Reich, a hawkish former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, was paid $70,000 to lobby Congress in the second quarter. Kahn also lobbied Congress during the period but did not disclose any payments above the $5,000 disclosure limit.

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Meanwhile the ruling APNU + AFC Coalition, which supports Granger, hired JJ&B for $40,000 per month in April 2020 to lobby on “on issues related to the electoral disputes now confronting Guyana.” JJ&B has been disseminating press statements from the ruling coalition arguing that Granger was the official winner.

Congress and the Donald Trump administration appear to have made up their minds. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a statement on June 26 calling on Granger to concede, while the State Department’s top official for the Western Hemisphere, Michael Kozak, today echoed the OAS in calling on Granger to respect the result of a national recount that found Ali had won.

The rumbles coming out of Washington appear to have been heard loud and clear by Granger’s lobbyists. On July 7, JJ&B partner and registered lobbyist Bart Fisher wrote an op-ed for the Guyana Chronicle to try to get out in front of potential sanctions that US officials have warned are a distinct possibility.

“There has been a lot of loose talk by the PPP/C [People’s Progressive Party] about possible sanctions that might be imposed by the United States and other countries against Guyana and/or its Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, if the PPP/C is not declared the winner of the March 2 general election,” Fisher wrote. “Quite simply, under the relevant U.S. statutes, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act passed by Congress in 2012, the International Economic Emergency Act of 1977 and the Trading with the Enemy Act, there would be no legal basis for doing such a thing.”