Biden transition, Elections, Middle East, New in Lobbying

Lobbyists with Congressional Black Caucus ties gain clout as Meeks takes over House foreign affairs panel

Saudi Arabia and India are among several countries that could see their recent investment in lobbying firms close to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) pay off after House Democrats today picked Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) as the first African American chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Meeks beat out progressive candidate Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) for the slot by a vote of 148 to 78. The seat came open after the current chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), was defeated after 16 terms in office by liberal educator Jamaal Bowman in this summer’s primary election.

With today’s vote, the CBC reaches another milestone at a time when it is already enjoying unprecedented political clout in its 49-year history. Black lawmakers are set to make up almost a third of the House Democratic Caucus in the 117th Congress that meets in January.

They will also have plenty of influence at the White House: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is one of their own, and former CBC chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) has been tapped to serve as senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Several foreign nations have taken note of the group’s growing influence in recent months and flocked to lobbying firms that boast of their close ties to the CBC.

These include Saudi Arabia and India, both of which recently hired The Williams Group, a firm founded by Michael Williams, a former special assistant for legislative affairs under President Bill Clinton and generous political donor to CBC candidates. Working alongside Williams at the firm is Director Yvesner Zamar, a former aide to CBC members Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and the late John Conyers (D-Mich.). The two countries are the firm’s first foreign lobbying clients.

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

Williams is registered as a foreign agent on both accounts along with subcontractor Jennifer Stewart, a former Meeks aide and the founder of Stewart Strategies & Solutions. Her bio on her firm’s website says she has “almost two decades of experience forging strong relationships with Democratic members of Congress” including especially strong ties with many members of the Congressional Black Caucus” forged while working for Meeks and fellow CBC member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). Stewart is also the treasurer of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s policy think tank, the 21st Century Council.

Gray Global Advisors, another firm with deep ties to the CBC, also recently signed up its first foreign client in years (Gray Global previously worked for Morocco from 2014 to 2017). Last month the firm signed a $20,000-a-month subcontracting agreement to work for the Ministry of the Presidency of the Dominican Republic, whose new leader Luis Abinader seeks to consolidate the close US partnership he has forged under the Donald Trump administration.

Date lobbying started
Contract amount
Lobbyists with Congressional Black Caucus ties
The Williams Group
Saudi Arabia
Oct. 2019
$30,000 / month
Michael Williams, former special assistant for legislative affairs under President Bill Clinton
Contractor Jennifer Stewart, former aide to Reps. Gregory Meeks and Eddie Bernice Johnson
Oct. 1, 2020
$15,000 / month
Michael Williams
Jennifer Stewart
Gray Global Advisors
Dominican Republic
Nov. 9, 2020
$20,000 / month
Former Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Congressional Black Caucus member
Trinidad and Tobago
October 2016
$1.2 million / year
Arthur Collins, senior political strategist for Barack Obama‘s 2008 campaign
Sudafi Henry. former director of legislative affairs for then-Vice President Joe Biden
Darrel Thompson, former deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Nov. 2017
$20,000 / month
Arthur Collins
Sudafi Henry
Darrel Thompson
March 2019
$30,000 / month
Arthur Collins
Sudafi Henry
Darrel Thompson
Greenberg Traurig
May 2018
$850,000 / year
Former Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), Congressional Black Caucus member
Foreign lobbying firms with deep ties to Congressional Black Caucus

Registered on the account is former Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1991-1993 before going on to chair the powerful House oversight panel in 2009-2011. The firm itself was cofounded by the late Rep. William Gray, a Pennsylvania Democrat who served in Congress from 1979 to 1991 and was the first African American to serve as House Majority Whip, the third highest position in the majority party.

Another CBC member-turned-foreign lobbyist is former Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.). He is currently only represents the government of Kazakhstan for Greenberg Traurig after the firm ended its representation of Turkey at the end of October.

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Under the Trump administration, CBC-connected theGROUP DC has carved out a lucrative niche lobbying for several Caribbean nations of Barbados, Bermuda and Trinidad & Tobago. Working all three accounts are firm founder Art Collins, a senior political strategist for Barack Obama‘s 2008 campaign who sits on the board of the 21st Century Council alongside Stewart; Sudafi Henry, a former director of legislative affairs for then-Vice President Joe Biden who previously served as counsel to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and legislative director to CBC Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.); and Darrell Thompson, a former deputy chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and chief of staff for Obama’s 2004 US Senate campaign.

The firm has notably lobbied Congress to renew the U.S. Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, a CBC priority that Congress recently renewed for another 10 years. The CBC is particularly influential on African and Caribbean issues because its members often represent those countries’ diasporas. The motto for the group’s foreign affairs and national security task force is “Protecting the Homeland, the Motherland, and the African Diaspora.”

“When it comes to conflicts at home and abroad, especially in Africa and African diaspora countries, it is important to come to the aid of those in need,” the CBC asserts on its web site. “The CBC Foreign Affairs and National Security Task Force continues to build on this history by fighting for funding and other resources to address famine in Africa and rebuild and revitalize Caribbean nations ravaged by natural disaster.”

Advocacy groups and lobbyists have had various degrees of success appealing to the CBC’s unique role.

This summer, Ethiopian-American activists helped convince the group to challenge the Donald Trump‘s pro-Egypt stance in the regional dispute with Ethiopia over the latter’s new dam on Nile. By contrast a lobbying firm’s appeal to the CBC to back Guyana’s incumbent president David Granger in an electoral dispute in part because he is black (his opponent was of South Asian descent) went nowhere, and Granger eventually conceded defeat.