- Japan hires Fleishman-Hillard to review social media accounts
- El Salvador pays Trump-connected lobbyist $214,000 despite cancellation claims
- Holland & Knight lobbied Trump ally in State Department to lift Nigerian politician’s travel ban
- Canadian group lobbies on Sen. Graham’s child porn bill
- StrateVarious ends Georgia contract
- Qatar renews with Smotkin firm
- South Korea peace group ends lobbying
New lobbying filings
Nigeria: Law firm Holland & Knight has belatedly registered as a foreign agent for work conducted on behalf of former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar during his campaign for the Feb. 2019 presidential election (Abubakar lost to the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari). The firm was paid $50,000 to help Abubakar obtain a US visa despite a travel ban linked to decade-old bribery scandals. A separate disclosure of lobbying activities during the period shows that Holland & Knight lobbyists met with Matthew Mowers, a Donald Trump campaign staffer turned senior White House adviser to the State Department, on Sept. 20, 2018 and continued to correspond with him afterwards as well as with Emily Elston, the director of African Affairs National Security Council under Trump. They also contacted staff for then-Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
Holland & Knight registered partner Leon Fresco, senior policy adviser Scott Mason and senior public affairs adviser and law clerk Marissa Serafino on the account. The disclosure comes days after Sada Cumber, a Pakistani–American businessman who served as special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 2008-2009, also belatedly registered for lobbying work on behalf of Abubakar. Cumber disclosed a $16.5 million contract with representatives of Abubakar in October 2018 — including $5.5 million for the visa — but wrote in his Department of Justice filing that the agreement was not implemented. Abubakar ended up visiting the US in January 2019 and held a rally at the Trump International Hotel in Washington after being granted a temporary suspension of a travel ban linked to decade-old bribery scandals, Reuters reported at the time.
Canada: The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is working with the Marsh Law Firm, a New York practice that specializes in sex-based crimes, to advance a congressional bill that targets online child pornography, according to a new filing. The firm provided victim impact statements from American and Canadian child pornography survivors to congressional staff back in July 2020 regarding the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT!) Act introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), according to the filing. Registered on the account are Marsh managing partner James Marsh and attorney Margaret Mabie.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is a charity funded and directed in part by the government of Canada and the province of Manitoba. Marsh Law is disseminating witness statements from members of the Phoenix 11, a group of child sexual assault survivors. Graham’s bill would establish a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other critics of the bill, which stalled in the Senate last year, argue the bill threatens online privacy.
Ecuador: Balsera Communications remains registered as a foreign agent for the government of Ecuador but disclosed no payments from the country’s Center for Strategic Intelligence in the second half of 2020. The Florida public relations firm registered with the US Department of Justice in June amid international criticism of Ecuador’s initial response to the COVID-19 epidemic. The firm previously disclosed $37,500 in payments for work conducted in May. Its contract was slated to run until Aug. 15, 2020. The only remaining registered agent on the account is Balsera director of special projects Julio Ligorria after founder Alfredo “Freddy” Balsera and president David Duckenfield terminated their representation in September and August, respectively. Balsera notably worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
El Salvador: A lobbying firm with ties to former President Donald Trump disclosed getting paid about $214,000 by the government of El Salvador in the second half of 2020 despite assurances from the office of President Nayib Bukele that he would have the contract annulled. The Sonoran Policy Group signed a six-month, $450,000 deal with the State Intelligence Agency in August, sparking an outcry in the impoverished Central American country. The new filing shows that during the second half of last year Sonoran set up video calls for the country’s intelligence director, Peter Dumas, with staffers for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Homeland Security Committee members Michael Guest (R-Miss.) and Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The firm also organized a phone call with a staffer for Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
Sonoran, which has since renamed itself Stryk Global Diplomacy, was founded by Robert Stryk, an Oregon winemaker who made a fortune lobbying for foreign clients in the past four year after serving as an unpaid West Coast adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign. Lobbying on the account with El Salvador are Sonoran CEO Christian Bourge and Latin America practice president Mario Duarte. El Salvador signed another six-month, $390,000 contract with Washington strategic communications firm Rational 360 in October. That firm, which is run by veteran Democrats including Joe Lockhart and Patrick Dorton, teamed up with Stryk shortly before signing the contract with El Salvador. The Associated Press first reported Sonoran’s filing over the weekend and has more information here. Bukele, a populist ally of Trump, is accused of trampling on human rights in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden administration officials declined to meet with him during an announced trip to Washington last week, the Associated Press reported Monday.
Japan: The Japanese Embassy in Washington has hired St. Louis public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard to “conduct a review and analysis of the Embassy of Japan’s social media accounts.” The firm will compare the account to those of other embassies and provide recommendations to the embassy. The contract is for $10,000 per project. It was effective Jan. 21, with a planned final deliverable date of March 31.
Fleishman-Hillard has registered eight people on the social media revamp:
- Senior vice president of social media and innovation Arman Belding;
- Senior partner and creative director Michael Adolph;
- Digital strategist Alexander de la Torre Bueno;
- Social content specialist Olivia Heibeck;
- Social media specialist Devon Graziano;
- Social media producer James Franklin;
- Media specialist Mikael Bernard; and
- Communications and social media intern Nichole Sanchez.
Marshall Islands: The local government of the Rongelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands paid Van Scoyoc Associates about $18,000 in fees and expenses in the second half of 2020 to counsel and advise the local government on “US programs and initiatives and bilateral relations with the US Government.” The firm disclosed a virtual meeting held Oct. 19 between Joseph McDermott, the Marshall Islands desk officer at the Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, and John Masek, outside counsel to the Rongelap Atoll local government. The pair discussed a piece of Marshallese legislation called the Economic Zone of Rongelap Act (EZRA).
South Korea: Attorney Elizabeth Beavers‘ EB Consulting terminated its lobbying for Women Cross DMZ on Feb. 3. Beavers had been lobbying on behalf of the group for diplomacy with North Korea and a formal end to the Korean War since May 2019, one month before President Donald Trump‘s visit to the demilitarized zone. Women Cross DMZ is funded by Massachusetts non-profit Peace Development Fund.
Thailand: New York law firm Luque terminated its contract with Thai banking group Kasikornbank and its CEO Banthoon Lamsam on Dec. 31. The firm had been working for Kasikornbank since June 2018 in assisting it with its work on the “Nan Sandbox” committee, a partnership between the Thai government, private sector leaders and villages in the Nan province of Thailand to end deforestation. According to registration documents, Luque assisted with “project management, vendor recruitment and management, the identification of potential donors for the committee, and making introductions to prospective donors, who would make donations directly to the committee.”
Denmark: VisitDenmark in New York spent $216,000 through the second half of 2020 to promote travel to the country. This includes a webinar held “to showcase the many beautiful attractions and activities travelers can do when the pandemic is over and they can visit Denmark.” Katinka Friis Petersen took over as press and PR manager on Nov. 1, replacing Kathrine Simonsen.
Georgia: Consulting firm StrateVarious terminated its contract with the government of Georgia on Dec. 31. The group reported receiving $60,000 from Georgia in the second half of 2020 to “provide strategic narratives and messaging assistance to Georgian government principals.” The firm had represented the Georgian government since 2017. Partners S. Enders Wimbush, a former director at Radio Liberty and governor of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, and Elizabeth Portale had been registered on the account.
Greece: American Defense International (ADI) has registered to lobby for Soukos, the California affiliate of Greek robotics company Soukos Robots, on “defense policy related to demilitarization of munitions.” Lobbying on the account is Vice President for Government Affairs Matt Weinstein, a former legislative director to former Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.).
Ireland: Tourism Ireland in New York added four new directors in July: Ruth Andres, Joe Dolan, Stephen McNally and Mary Mulvey on July 31. The New York office received $3.5 million from its home office in Ireland in the second half of 2020 to promote tourism to the country.
Israel: Former Bill Clinton aide Steve Rabinowitz and his Washington-based Bluelight Strategies helped distribute answers to questions about Israel’s plan to vaccinate the remaining 320,000 Holocaust survivors around the world with the COVID-19 vaccine as the initiative raises ethical and logistical concerns. Bluelight was hired last month for $30,000 by the nonprofit Shalom Corps, a joint effort between the Jewish Agency and the Diaspora Affairs ministry, to promote the effort. Critics call it a wasteful and diplomatically fraught political stunt by Diaspora Minister Omer Yankelovitch, who is also a member of the Knesset for the centrist Blue and White party.
Qatar: The Embassy of Qatar in Washington has extended its $40,000-per-month contract with Pennsylvania firm ThirdCircle another 12 months through 2021. The firm is assisting Qatar “in arranging for state and local elected officials to participate in delegations traveling to Qatar for meetings with government officials, business and trade representatives, and representatives of other organizations and institutions.” ThirdCircle has represented Qatar since 2019. The firm is headed by Richard Smotkin, a longtime friend of Scott Pruitt who arranged a controversial trip to Morocco for the then-Environmental Protection Agency administrator during which Pruitt pushed US natural gas exports. Smotkin was later hired as a lobbyist for Morocco, whom he continues to represent.
Julian Pecquet contributed to this report.