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Pompeo insists think-tanks disclose foreign funding; Morocco targets Trump and Biden in phosphate fight; Ethiopia’s Oromos end lobbying: Tuesday’s Daily Digest

Pompeo presses think tanks for transparency on foreign funding

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo departs Joint Base Andrews en route to Tokyo, Japan on October 4, 2020 / State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded today that think tanks and academic institutions disclose their sources of foreign funding if they want to engage with the State Department. He singled out money from Russia and China as particularly concerning.

The statement is the latest example of the US government cracking down on hidden foreign influence in the US political process amid continued warnings from law enforcement. In July, Attorney General Bill Barr warned US companies that the Justice Department would begin treating them as Chinese agents under US law if they lobby for policies favored by China.

In his statement today, Pompeo made clear that he was not asking the think tanks to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and that the State Department was not making disclosure a requirement for engagement. But he made clear that “department staff” would be “mindful of whether disclosure has been made and of specific funding sources that are disclosed when determining whether and how to engage.”

“The unique role of think tanks in the conduct of foreign affairs makes transparency regarding foreign funding more important than ever,” Pompeo said. “To protect the integrity of civil society institutions, the Department requests henceforth that think tanks and other foreign policy organizations that wish to engage with the Department disclose prominently on their websites funding they receive from foreign governments, including state-owned or state-operated subsidiary entities.”

Read the full statement here.

New foreign lobbying filings (FARA)

Morocco: The US subsidiary of Morocco’s 94% state-owned OCP Group has struck a one-year, $300,000 lobbying contract with Cornerstone Government Affairs as the phosphate fertilizer company faces a US probe over its alleged government subsidies. The agreement, which is dated Sept. 25 and was effective Oct. 1, comes just as OCP North America itself registered as a foreign agent of the OCP Group last week, as Foreign Lobby Report first reported on Friday. Like OCP North America, Cornerstone is tasked with helping to coordinate and direct a public relations campaign regarding countervailing duty investigations by the US government.

The PR push comes after the Mosaic Company, a Tampa-based rival, filed a complaint with the US Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission in June accusing Morocco and Russia of subsidizing their phosphate fertilizer industry through various means including “artificially cheap debt,” “specific tax breaks” and “the provision of phosphate rock mining rights on below-market terms.” OCP (formerly Office Cherifien des Phosphates) denies receiving any subsidies.

The contract with Cornerstone goes further than the subsidies fight, however. It notably calls on Cornerstone to:

  • Reach out to “Democratic and Republican leadership in the House and Senate as well as the next generation of House and Senate leadership, and future committee chairs” with the goal of looking for “champions for OCP NA’s priorities”;
  • Contact members on key committees of jurisdiction regarding trade matters and U.S. phosphate use; and
  • Facilitate meetings and “enhance communications” with the Donald Trump administration and former Vice President Joe Biden‘s campaign “in order to best position OCP Group for the future.”

The push brings to mind OCP’s past lobbying through Covington and Burling from 2008 to 2015, when the fertilizer company played a role in pushing the Moroccan government’s claims over the disputed Western Sahara, the site of OCP’s phosphate mining. In Congress, that support has long materialized itself in pro-Moroccan language in annual Appropriations bills. But with the retirement of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs both the House Appropriations Committee and its foreign aid subcommittee, attention is turning to subcommittee Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who has spoken in favor of an independence referendum in the Western Sahara in the past. OCP North America did not respond to a request for comment.

Iceland: Media Planning International Corporation, the Miami office of French multinational advertising and public relations company Havas, has disclosed a three-year contract between Havas Media Frankfurt GmbH and the Icelandic Ministry of Industries and Innovation’s campaign to attract more visitors from the US. Registered on the Promote Iceland account are Vice President and Head of Digital Humberto Cruz, Client Service Director Rebecca Shujman, Financial controller Mayerly Sepulveda and Head of Strategy and Insights Denise Charlier Bissacot.

Australia: Edelman has registered Daniel Workman of Washington on its account for Australian nonprofit Minderoo. The Chicago-based public relations firm inked a $56,000, month-long public relations contract with Minderoo in late September. Edelman is highlighting the foundation’s “OceanOmics initiative to better understand the biology of the deep ocean” and its “Stacked Odds” report “which details the prevalence of women and girls in conditions of modern-day slavery.” Workman joins Senior Account Executive Iana Andrianova Pervazova and Assistant Account Executive Sean Thomas Willner in Washington and Senior Account Executive Jeremy Eisengrein in New York.

Finally, law firm Roberti White (now Roberti Global) has belatedly disclosed that it stopped lobbying for Afghanistan’s Transformation & Continuity party on Dec. 31, 2014 and for the US subsidiary of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) on March 31, 2015. The filing was made “to correct a deficiency”, suggesting pressure from the Department of Justice.

New domestic lobbying filings (LDA)

Yorktown Solutions has terminated its lobbying for the Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association (OLLAA), a Virginia-based group that advocates for the marginalized Ethiopian community. Yorktown has been paid $90,000 by the group since been hired on July 6 amid a wave of ethnic violence in the country. Yorktown president and former Mitt Romney 2012 campaign adviser Daniel Vajdich and vice-president Jonathan Gregory lobbied Congress and the State Department on “issues related to human rights, women’s rights, and indigenous rights in Oromo communities around the world.”

The termination was effective Oct. 6. Three days later, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), introduced a resolution “supporting respect for human rights and encouraging continued democratic progress in Ethiopia.” The resolution, which is supported by the OLLAA, notably references the June 29 killing of prominent Oromo musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa and the subsequent wave of violence in the country. For more, read our July 14 story about the OLLAA.