Latest filings

TikTok hires two former US senators; US arrests alleged Iran agent; Ukraine natural gas lobby renews $960,000 push against Russian pipeline to Europe: Tuesday’s Daily Digest

TikTok picks up former US Sens. Lott and Breaux for post-Trump era

Luiza Kamalova / ShutterStock

The US subsidiary of Chinese viral video app TikTok has hired its first former members of Congress as it seeks to scroll past the Donald Trump era.

Ex-Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) of Crossroads Strategies will lobby on “internet technology and learning-enabled content platforms” for California-based TikTok Inc., according to a new lobbying filing. The registration was effective Dec. 7.

The registration brings to six the number of former members of Congress now lobbying for Chinese tech companies, according to a Foreign Lobby Report review of lobbying records.

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US charges Iranian author with failing to register as foreign agent of Tehran

US prosecutors have charged a prolific advocate of dovish US policies with regard to Iran of secretly serving as a foreign agent of Tehran for more than a decade.

Federal agents arrested Iranian-born Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi on Monday at his home in Massachusetts, the Justice Department said in a press release today. He is accused of failing to disclose his ties to the Iranian governments while lobbying US officials and advancing Tehran’s interests in the media. Afrasiabi faces up to 10 years in prison.

Read the story here.


New lobbying filings

Americas

Guyana: Wyoming ​helicopter supplier and dealer ISS Aviation has hired Washington firm Lobbyit to lobby on “US-Guyana bilateral relations,” “political corruption in Guyana” and “illegal asset seizure assistance.” Government relations manager Justin Lewis is the only lobbyist registered on the account. The registration was effective Jan. 13. Founded in 2009 by Paul Kanitra, Lobbyit offers unique, tiered prices that are much lower than many other lobbying practices. The firm did not respond to a request for comment about its client’s dispute with Guyana.

The registration comes as a Guyanese opposition lawmaker is demanding answers about the new government’s $25,000-a-month contract with the Cormac Group, which Foreign Lobby Report first reported on Jan. 12. Amanza Walton-Desir has asked the government of President Irfaan Ali to explain the criteria used for Cormac’s selection and “whether there will be an overlap between its activities and the work of the country’s foreign service personnel in Washington,” reports the Stabroek News. The Cormac Group represented a New York organization close to Ali’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) during last year’s bitter election. Walton-Desir for her part is a member of the opposition APNU+AFC coalition. She has challenged her firing as general counsel of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority following the PPP’s electoral victory.

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Asia

Afghanistan: Jeffrey Richard Mallory of Vero Beach, Florida, is no longer as a foreign agent for the Afghanistan-U.S. Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council as of Jan. 11. He had been registered as an outside adviser to the group since April 2020. The council registered as a Delaware nonprofit in November 2019. The council is funded by Afghan businessman Mohammad Gul Raoufi and headed by executive director Martin Rahmani in Washington. Three Afghan lawmakers sit on its board of advisers: Mir Haider AfzalyNaheed Farid and Haji Ajmal Rahmani.

The council has been beefing up its Washington lobbying presence of late, most recently hiring veteran Republican operative Joe Pounder‘s Bullpen Strategy Group in December 2020. Three others firms have also registered as foreign agents for the council over the past year:

  • Former Republican Capitol Hill aide Matthew Wise‘s Wise Capital Strategy;
  • Wise subscontractor Jake Perry + Partners, headed by a former top adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); and
  • Duncap Strategies, a Mississippi firm led by the former director of communications of that state’s Republican Party, Jennifer Dunagin.

The council’s lobbying registration with the Department of Justice describes its mission as working to “encourage the U.S. to adopt legislation, military assistance, and foreign policy that will promote Afghan national security and strong US-Afghanistan strategic ties, including anti-terrorism efforts.”

Japan: SolAmerica Energy of Atlanta has hired Arent Fox to lobby on “climate change and other environmental policies and tax issues related to solar.” The company is 42 % owned by Japan’s Osaka Gas Co. Arent Fox counsel Norman Lent is registered to lobby on the account. The registration comes as solar energy companies have been ramping up their lobbying ahead amid high growth expectations following President-elect Joe Biden‘s election.

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South Korea: Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Carol Browner has registered to lobby for Covington & Burling on behalf of SK Innovation Co., South Korea’s largest energy company. The firm is involved in a dispute before the US International Trade Commission with South Korean electric vehicle battery manufacturer LG Chem, which has accused SK Innovation of stealing trade secrets. Browner served as EPA administrator under President Bill Clinton and as director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy under President Barack Obama.

Europe

Ukraine: Yorktown Solutions has renewed its year-long, $960,000 contract with the Federation of Employers of the Oil and Gas Industry of Ukraine through 2021 to continue lobbying against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Western Europe. Ukraine’s natural gas industry is dominated by national oil and gas company Naftogaz, which Yorktown previously lobbied for through 2018. Yorktown is led by President Daniel Vajdich, a former Republican aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) who has advised the presidential campaigns of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), then-Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). Also registered on the account are Yorktown Vice President Jonathan Gregory and former SFRC Democratic staffer Brittany Beaulieu.

The renewal comes as the US today announced sanctions on the Fortuna, a Russian-owned ship involved in the construction of the pipeline that will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea. Earlier this month, the Donald Trump administration warned European companies helping to build the pipeline that they faced the risk of sanctions as the outgoing administration “prepares a final round of punitive measures against the project,” Reuters reported last week. The US has long opposed the pipeline, which would deprive Ukraine of lucrative transit fees. “Nord Stream 2, if completed, would give Russia the means to completely bypass Ukraine, depriving Ukraine of vital revenues and opening it up to further Russian aggressive actions, while providing the means to use natural resources as a tool of political pressure and malign influence against western Europe,” the US State Department said in a press release announcing today’s sanctions. “Today’s announcement demonstrates that the United States is not afraid to hold accountable those who continue to aid and abet this tool of Russian coercion.”

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Middle East

Iran: The opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran disclosed almost $162,000 in US donations from June 1 to Nov. 1, 2020. During those six months, the group held discussions with several former US officials, including former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood and President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani regarding developments in Iran and the region. The group also disclosed meetings with several think tank including a “subject matter expert at the Atlantic Council” whom it declined to name.

United Arab Emirates: The Brunswick Group of New York, which provides public relations services for Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, has added five new agents to its account as of Jan. 12. They are Brunswick Arts Director Anne Belz and executives Sana Yamlikha and Angela Borkhoche in the United Arab Emirates, and strategic communications consultant Katherine Campbell and communications consultant Annabel van der Meijden in the United Kingdom. The bulk of Brunswick’s work is for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in November 2017.

Yemen: The US offices of Yemen’s separatist Southern Transitional Council reported receiving more than $212,000 from STC headquarters in Aden from June through November 2020 to cover operational costs in Washington DC and New York, a 45 % increase over the previous six months. The United Arab Emirates-backed STC opened a New York office last year to reach out to the United Nations. During the reporting period, the US office emailed numerous US and international officials including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs Timothy Lenderking, State Department Yemen desk officer Maria Davydenko, assorted foreign diplomats at the UN in New York and congressional staff. The council notably requested help with the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted “the humanitarian situation due to the continued war in Yemen.”

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Caught our eye

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) pressed President-elect Joe Biden‘s nominee to lead US intelligence to reinforce foreign lobbying laws during her confirmation hearing today, raising concerns with Saudi lobbying against legislation to open up the kingdom to liability in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “I expressed you my concern that it’s possible under the current state of the law for foreign governments to hire Americans to help influence Congress and other domestic policy makers,” Cornyn told Avril Haines. “Right now under the law it’s possible to use a law firm or some other cut-out to obscure the relationship between a foreign government and people lobbying Congress to make policy, unbeknownst to Congress.” (You can listen to his comments here).

“When we passed the Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) I became aware that Saudi Arabians were hiring lobbyists on K Street,” added Cornyn, who sponsored the bill that became law in 2016. He called himself “very disturbed” by the revelation. “I understand why you would be concerned in certain circumstances,” Haines responded. “I’m of the view that there are certain circumstances in which it may be appropriate, and even useful, to the United States to have former government officials work with other foreign governments and companies.” Cornyn told Haines, who served as deputy national security adviser and deputy CIA director during the Barack Obama administration, that he hopes she will work with the committee in the future to address issues he sees in current foreign lobbying laws.

Cornyn has been a part of efforts to shed light on foreign influence in Washington in the past. In 2019, he co-sponspored a bill with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) that would have increased fines for non-compliance and given the US Justice Department easier access to documents. The following year, he teamed up with former then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) to propose legislation requiring foreign media outlets to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

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