Asia, Defense, New in Lobbying, Transparency, US-China tensions

Report lays bare Japan’s $32 million lobbying spree and its impact on US defense

A new report released today sheds light on Japan’s massive lobbying spending in Washington and its impact on US defense policies amid rising tensions with China.

An astounding 51 firms representing Japanese interests were paid $32 million in 2019, according to the analysis by the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the left-leaning Center for International Policy (CIP). The report offers a rare deep dive into the priorities of a close US ally whose lobbying perennially tops the spending charts but largely escapes scrutiny amid a focus on US foes and more controversial partners in the Middle East.

“While China and Russia receive the brunt of the attention for foreign influence activities, the highest spending nations, like Japan, fly under the radar,” the report notes.

With both President Donald Trump and the incoming Joe Biden administration “emphasizing a tough stance on China,” the report states, “Japan’s influence operations in the U.S. are especially worthy of attention now.”

The report found that “military and strategic defense alignment” was often listed as a reason for lobbyists’ outreach to US policymakers, with defense cited in more than 14 % of contacts. Contacts with the foreign affairs and defense committees dominated the list, with the office of Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a member of the Defense Appropriations panel, taking the top spot among individual offices with 27 contacts.

Interestingly, the report ties much of the lobbying to the bitter feud between the central government in Tokyo and the prefecture of Okinawa over the US troop presence on the island. Tokyo is a major buyer of US arms and has sought a stronger military posture under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while Okinawa lobbies heavily to reduce the US military footprint on its territory.

“Japan’s lobbying under FARA is marked by divergent interests and uncoordinated communication,” the report states. “[A]nd, in the case of defense, clashing messages between Tokyo’s priorities and the Okinawa Prefecture’s fight to reduce the US military’s presence on their soil.”

In all, lobbyists for Japanese interests contacted the offices of 240 members of Congress las year and donated $2.65 million to political campaigns, with 22 lawmakers receiving campaign contributions from firms that contacted their offices on behalf of Japan. The Washington office of the Okinawa prefecture led the charge, with 1,192 listed political contacts, followed by Embassy of Japan lobbyist the Fratelli Group, with 674.

The report found that Japan has also poured money into other avenues of influence, including foundations such as the Sasakawa Foundation and congressional trips organized by the Japan Center for International Exchange. Meanwhile donations to the US colleges and universities have totaled more than $655 million since 2014, according to the Department of Education, making the country one of the top foreign donors to the sector.

A previous CIP report ranked Japan 11th in foreign donations to top US think thanks between 2014 and 2018, with $4.9 million. Think tank outreach included five contacts by the New York office of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) to the Inter-American Dialogue, which the report concludes “seemed to focus on attending events important to Japanese investment in Latin America, reflecting a long-speculated narrative that Japan may be trying to counteract China’s foothold in the region.”

The report was written by Research Project Lead Cassandra Stimpson, who joined the State Department as a program analyst just this month, and Ben Freeman, the director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative.