Latest filings

Argentina lobbied to be Biden’s first Latin America call; Qatar-owned US spy plane co. gets new leadership; ex-McCain adviser ends China lobbying: Tuesday’s Daily Digest


New lobbying filings

Africa

Zimbabwe: Mercury Public Affairs helped coordinate several meetings between Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and congressional aides and US agencies in the second half of 2020 regarding a wildlife protection bill that the African country insists would instead inhibit conservation efforts. The CECIL Act would notably prohibit the importation of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia. Zimbabwe’s government detailed why it opposed the bill in written testimony at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee’s wildlife subcommittee in July, writing that “regulated sport hunting is an integral part of securing the viability of key habitats of our growing (and stable) populations of large carnivores such the lion.” Mercury lobbyists continued to discuss conservation issues in Zimbabwe with US officials throughout the year even as the bill sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) stalled in Congress.

Mercury extended its contract with Mercury International UK to represent Zimbabwe for another year in June 2020. The country seeks to terminate several US sanctions, including the 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA), which restricts Zimbabwe’s access to international financial institutions. The firm received $543,000 from the ministry in the second half of 2020.

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Americas

Argentina: Arnold & Porter lobbyists helped set up Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez‘s Nov. 30 phone call with Joe Biden, according to a new lobbying filing, helping Fernandez score a diplomatic coup as the first Latin American leader to speak with the president-elect. The firm disclosed sending four emails to an unnamed “member of President-elect Biden’s Transition Team” starting on Nov. 8, one day after Biden declared victory in the 2020 presidential election. The call sparked a mini political crisis in Argentina when Foreign Minister Felipe Sola, who wasn’t on the call, inaccurately told reporters that Fernandez had asked Biden to lean in on the US delegate to the International Monetary Fund’s executive board, Mark Rosen, regarding Argentina’s efforts to renegotiate about $44 billion in already-disbursed loans.

Arnold & Porter signed a 12-month, $1.932 million contract with Argentina’s Ministry of International Trade and Foreign Investment in May 2020 as the country seeks US support with its debt crisis. Registered lobbyists on the account include former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon and Raul Herrera, a former general counsel to the Inter-American Investment Corporation, both of whom also lobby for Ecuador.

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Ecuador: Arnold & Porter disclosed a meeting with then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien on Nov. 9, according to a new lobbying filing for the six months through December. They discussed “relations between the Republic of Ecuador and the United States, including a potential bilateral trade agreement.” The firm signed a $900,000 contract with Ecuador’s Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries on Nov. 10, the day after the reported date of the meeting with O’Brien. Signing for the firm were former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon and Raul Herrera, a former general counsel to the Inter-American Investment Corporation.

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Haiti: Mercury Public Affairs helped distribute an Oct. 27 press statement from the Haitian government denying that President Jovenel Moise had given away one of the country’s islands to rapper Kanye West as rumors of an illicit deal continue to circulate on social media. The rumors date back to an interview West gave to the Joe Rogan Experience during which he said that the president had given him part of the island of Tortuga island to develop. Mercury also distributed a statement from Haiti’s new ambassador to the US, Bocchit Edmond, praising the unveiling of a new constitution late last month that Moise insists must be voted on in April before legislative elections in September.

President Moise has been ruling by decree since the beginning of 2020 after the country failed to hold legislative elections scheduled for October 2019. The delay created tensions with the US, the largest international aid donor to the island. Since then, Haiti has increased lobbying efforts in preparation for the Joe Biden administration, hiring the Miami-based Latin America Advisory Group in November for outreach to US lawmakers, international media relations and think-tanks.

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Asia

Azerbaijan: BGR Government Affairs contacted members of Congress on behalf of Azerbaijan as the country seeks to capitalize on last year’s victory over Armenia, which has political sway in Washington. Lobbyist Mark Tavlarides shared a Jan. 29 letter from Azerbaijani Ambassador to the US Elin Suleymanov inviting the US to participate in developing land Azerbaijan reclaimed in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in 2020. “For a long time, a major priority for the US has been to include Armenia in the regional integration and economic cooperation projects with its neighbors,” Suleymanov wrote. “Today, for the first time since Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s independence, such opportunities are realistically within reach and are supported by Azerbaijan.” Tavlarides also shared an update regarding the Southern Gas Corridor, a natural gas supply route that runs from Azerbaijan to Italy. Suleymanov writes in his letter that the gas supply “is already creating incentives for widening and expanding regional energy and infrastructure projects.”

China: The Rogich Communications Group of Las Vegas officially stopped representing the Chinese government on Jan. 26. The firm led by Sigmund Rogich, a former US ambassador to Iceland and senior adviser to then-President George H.W. Bush, had worked for the Embassy of China in Washington since 2015. The last political activity disclosed on China’s behalf was a May 2017 meeting during which Ambassador Cui Tiankai invited Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to visit China (Rogich had been an adviser on McCain’s presidential campaign). Registered on the account along with Rogich was firm vice-president Christopher Cole. Rogich is also listed as the chairman of the US-China Transpacific Foundation, one of five cultural-exchange programs for US officials that then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ended in December.

China: Former senator turned Mercury Public Affairs lobbyist David Vitter (R-La.) joined Bryan Lanza in lobbying the Donald Trump administration on behalf of the US affiliate of Chinese video surveillance giant Hikvision after the Pentagon blacklisted the company over its alleged ties to the Chinese military. Vitter contacted the president’s assistant for planning and implementation, John Fleming, as well as Thomas Sherman, the assistant to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, to request meetings and inquire about the list of companies. Lanza for his part contacted Andrew Eck of the Treasury Department in July to ask about Trump’s China policy. Hikvision was previously blacklisted by the Department of Commerce in 2019 for allegedly helping Beijing spy on China’s Muslim Uyghur minority. Former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif,), now a co-chair of Mercury’s Los Angeles offices, dropped Hikvision last month after news of her involvement caused a backlash. Hikvision (US) paid Mercury $750,000 in the second half of 2020.

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Micronesia: Senior policy specialist Elena Brennan has left Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer as of Jan. 4 and no longer represents the government of the Federated States of Micronesia.

South Korea: Arnold & Porter disclosed a Dec. 8 meeting with an undisclosed “member of President-elect Biden’s Transition Team” on behalf of the Korean government to discuss “issues potentially affecting bilateral trade and investment including technology and infrastructure agenda.” The firm has represented the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy since February 2020.

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South Korea: Pittsburgh-based international law firm K&L Gates belatedly disclosed that it had renewed its contract for trade and government relations services with the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) from August 2020 through Jan 31, 2021. The contract is for $100,000 for six months. The firm provides “monitoring, reporting and analysis of trade matters; assistance with arranging meetings between KITA and government officials; [and] support for KITA events.” Working on the account are Washington office employees Daniel Crowley, Stacy Ettinger, Jeffrey Orenstein, Laurie Purpura and Eli Schooley.

Middle East

Qatar: A Qatari-owned aerospace company that has invested massive amounts of money building spy planes in South Carolina has new leadership. Charleston-based aerospace Barzan Aeronautical has registered CEO John Hardwick of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Chief Financial Officer Gerald Straughn of Charleston as foreign agents of parent company Barzan Holdings, which is owned by the Qatari Ministry of Defense. The company builds airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems, according to lobbying filings. Hardwick has operated a company called Hardwick Consulting and Investigations in Chevy Chase since 2004, according to Maryland business records. Neither he nor Barzan Aeronautical returned requests for comment. Hardwick is to be paid $400,000 a year, while Straughn will make $180,000 a year. UK citizen Richard Craven had previously been registered as CEO, with a salary of just $60,000 per year.

The strategic investment arm of Qatar’s ministry of defense spent $16.5 million to support Barzan Aeronautical during the six months through September. Barzan Holdings‘ political activities included procurement and development of defense and security items; engaging in commercial activity with US companies and working with relevant US government export control agencies; working with local and state officials on job creation; and working with US colleges to facilitate student exchange programs. In all Barzan has disclosed spending $76.5 million since setting up the company in 2018.

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Qatar: The Embassy of Qatar in Washington paid Waltham PLLC $479,000 in the second half of last year for “legal services” provided by the Washington law firm, including “advice concerning embassy operations, diplomatic and other embassy communications, embassy contracts with providers of goods and services, charitable and cultural initiatives of the Embassy, litigation matters, bilateral agreements between Qatar and the United States, embassy assistance to Qatari nationals, and embassy real estate.”

Turkey: Mercury Public Affairs continued to lobby for the development of a natural gas deal between Turkey and Louisiana Natural Gas Exports Inc. (LNGE) of Lafayette on behalf of the Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK) during the second half of 2020. After the partnership was proposed in June, Mercury lobbyist Bryan Lanza had a phone call with Keith Kellog, national security adviser to then-Vice President Mike Pence, about Turkish energy. Mercury lobbyists also held multiple calls and meetings with officials at the Energy and State departments as well as with congressional offices with ties to Louisiana, Turkey and the natural gas industry.

In addition, lobbyist and former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) moderated a Sept. 16 webinar hosted by TAIK to discuss US-Turkish relations. Among those who spoke, according to Mercury, were Reps. Clay Higgins (R-La.) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio); Robert Bensh, an oil and gas expert and former energy advisor to Ukraine; Ben Blanchet, the CEO of LNGE; Larry Kibler, the former president of Virginia Natural Gas; Hasan Pehlivan, general manager of Turkish textile company VitrA Tiles; and an unnamed senior vice president of H2 Brands Group. The seminar notably discussed how Turkey could replace China in the global supply chain. Chabot, a co-chair of the Caucus on US-Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans, said in a statement that “finding common ground is critical and building on trade relations is an area in which we can make considerable progress.”

Turkey: Mercury Public Affairs has registered associate Amaris Cockfield on its account for the Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK). She will provide consulting services for public relations regarding issues of Interest to the council.

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United Arab Emirates: Akin Gump partner Jonathan Poling terminated his registration as a foreign agent for the UAE Embassy on Dec. 31. In the six months through December, the firm received $6.1 million from the embassy while reaching out to numerous congressional offices as well as pro-Israel organizations to promote a July report authored by Akin Gump lobbyist and former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) accusing Qatar-based Al Jazeera of being a foreign agent of Doha. Akin Gump subcontractor the Bullpen Strategy Group received $262,000 during the period while contacting news organizations on issues including the “accuracy and transparency of Qatar government-owned media.” The Donald Trump administration’s Department of Justice demanded that online news channel AJ+ register as a foreign agent in September, a step the channel has yet to take.

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