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Podcast: Meet the lobbyist connecting foreign nations to the increasingly powerful Congressional Black Caucus

The Congressional Black Caucus has long had outsize influence over US policy in Africa and the Caribbean.

But with a record-breaking number of African-Americans in Congress and atop key committees, the group of lawmakers finds itself being courted by international actors like never before. And that’s proving a boon for lobbyists with longstanding ties to the organization.

Michael Williams

“There’s an uptick in outreach to the CBC across the board in the lobbying space,” Williams Group founder Michael Williams told The Influencers, the weekly podcast co-hosted by Foreign Lobby Report and Richard Levick of the international communications agency LEVICK.

That includes foreign governments, two of which — Saudi Arabia and India — have signed on with Williams’ firm since the fall of 2019, the first time it has registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in its seven-year history.

“What I bring to them is not specifically being a Democrat but more strategic thinking — how do you put all the different pieces together, and how do you build coalitions to help your specific interests,” Williams said. “In my case it’s the strong relationships with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and more of the moderate members in both the House and the Senate. How do you talk to those people, and what impact can they have?”

Williams, a former special assistant for legislative affairs under President Bill Clinton, works at the firm along with Director Yvesner Zamar, a former aide to CBC members Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and the late John Conyers (D-Mich.). Working on the foreign sovereign accounts along with him are subcontractor Jennifer Stewart, a former aide to CBC members Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who is in the running to be the next chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“What we’ve seen, particularly with the Congressional Black Caucus, is you have a lot of very senior members who are leading very high-level committees,” Williams said. “And they are engaged very directly in a lot of interests these clients may have.”

He said sovereign clients have been turning to his firm as they perceive a need to build bridges with an increasingly powerful body that’s set to make up almost a third of all House Democrats following this month’s elections.

“When you have a single caucus that essentially represents potentially 32 % of the entire House Democratic Caucus, it’s incumbent on anyone who has an interest in dealing with Congress to deal with that particular caucus,” he said.

And with Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), herself a CBC member, taking over from President Donald Trump, the Black Caucus is expected to once again play the policy-setting role it had been accustomed to under former presidents including Republican George W. Bush.

“They were very engaged during both terms of the Bush administration,” Williams said, “[when] there was more of a normal foreign policy apparatus there, where it wasn’t just a sort of singular decision-maker who said ‘I’m going to do this’ and the foreign policy apparatus sort of bent its interests to fit that.”

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