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Mining giant leads Moroccan lobbying blitz; India hires firm close to Black Caucus; Lebanese president loses US adviser: Wednesday’s Daily Digest

Mining giant leads Moroccan lobbying blitz

Phosphate mine / OCP

Morocco’s biggest company has launched a massive lobbying and public relations campaign to stave off threatened tariffs and rebuild its presence in Washington.

Over the past week the US subsidiary of the OCP Group and no fewer than four US firms have registered with the US Department of Justice as foreign agents of the phosphate mining behemoth. Phosphate is a key ingredient in fertilizer.

On its face the effort aims simply to push back against a complaint from a US competitor that the North African country unfairly subsidizes its phosphate industry. But some of the contracts appear to go far beyond responding to the ongoing Commerce Department investigation, calling for outreach to the “next generation” of congressional leaders and meetings with both the Donald Trump administration and the campaign of his rival Joe Biden.

Read the story here.

New foreign lobbying filings (FARA)


India: The Embassy of India in Washington has hired a lobbying firm with close ties to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for $90,000 for six months. The $15,000-per-month contract with the Williams Group was effective Oct. 1 and runs to March 31, 2021. Registered to lobby on the account are firm founder and President Michael Williams, who served as special assistant for legislative affairs under President Bill Clinton, and subcontractor Jennifer Stewart, a former aide to CBC members Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). The firm is tasked with providing “strategic counsel, tactical planning and government relations assistance on policy matters before the U.S. Government, the U.S. Congress, and select state governments, as well as academic institutions and think-tanks.” The Williams Group joins BGR Government Affairs, Cornerstone Government Affairs and Cornerstone subcontractor DiNino Associates in representing the government of India.

This is the Williams Group’s second foreign lobbying contract. The firm signed a $30,000 contract with the Saudi Embassy in October to provide “strategic advice on engagement with members of Congress.” A recent lobbying filing that predates the contract with India offers insight into the firm’s deep ties to the Congressional Black Caucus, which is enjoying a record number of members and political power. During the six months through August, Williams disclosed $5,000 total in political contributions to four CBC members: Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), William Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-Mo.), Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) and Meeks. He also gave $2,500 to the Congressional Black Caucus PAC and a total of $6,100 to three black candidates for Congress: Mondaire Jones ($2,800) and Ritchie Torres ($2,800) of New York and Candace Valenzuela ($500) of Texas.

Pakistan: A US branch of Pakistan’s secular Muttahida Quami Movement has belatedly filed lobbying reports going back to September 2018. Chicago-based MQM International, Inc. (dba MQM USA) reported no payments or lobbying activity during the period.

Middle East

Lebanon: Maryland resident Antoine Haddad has terminated his registration as an unpaid US adviser to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, effective Oct. 8. In the second half of the year Haddad disclosed meeting with several unnamed State Department officials to discuss “improving the relationship between Lebanon and the United States, helping resolve bolder disputes, and discussing impact of the sanctions on the Lebanese economy.” Haddad registered as a pro bono agent for Aoun last year. For more, don’t miss our deep dive into advocacy efforts by Lebanese-American groups helping the country cope with chaos and tragedy.

Qatar: The Embassy of Qatar in Washington paid Bridge Builder Communications of Houston $144,000 in the six months through September to help promote its Qatar Harvey Fund. The firm disclosed several contacts with officials from the City of Houston, Harris County, the town of Woodsboro and Refugio County regarding Qatari assistance following the devastating 2017 hurricane. The fund also wrote to people whose homes were repaired or rebuilt by Habitat for Humanity thanks to Qatari aid. The letter highlights a $3.2 million Qatar Harvey Fund donation to Golden Crescent Habitat for Humanity,
Habitat for Humanity of Jefferson County and Houston Habitat for Humanity to help repair or rebuild 71 homes. State-run Qatar Petroleum owns a 70 percent stake in Golden Pass, a natural gas terminal outside of Houston.

Separately, New York public relations firm RF Binder Partners disclosed $108,000 in payments from the Qatar Foundation, a non-profit founded by then-Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani and his wife Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, during the six months through October. The firm worked on “public relations and media engagement” for the foundation’s work in its key three pillars: Education; Research, Development and Innovation; and Community Development.

Turkey: Mercury Public Affairs is drawing attention to Turkish business ties to key states as part of its work for the Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK). These include California, New York, South Carolina and Kentucky. TAIK hosted a webinar over the summer with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of key foreign relations panels and one of the few lawmakers to have President Donald Trump‘s ear on national security issues, promoting Turkey as an investment alternative to China. Kentucky is the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In other news

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent a joint letter to the presidents of US colleges and universities today urging them to make sure that support from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for Confucius Institutes and similar programs does not allow China to violate academic freedom on US campuses.

“If you find that the PRC’s presence, while meant to provide a Chinese language and culture opportunity for your students, also aims to constrain academic discourse about the PRC’s actions, we urge you to take appropriate action,” they wrote.

The Department of Education has opened investigations into several US institutions of higher learning over undisclosed gifts and contracts with China. The letter comes a day after Pompeo insisted that think tanks disclose any foreign funding, from China and Russia especially, if they want to meet with State Department officials.

Read today’s letter here.