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Ethiopia hires lobbying help; Qatar signs with Ogilvy; Chinese electric car maker fights US restrictions: Thursday’s Daily Digest

Ethiopia hires lobbying help amid dual threats from Egypt, human rights critics

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed heads to a European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium. on Jan. 24, 2019 / Photo by Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

Ethiopia has hired a new lobbying firm for outreach to Congress and the Joe Biden administration as the country battles a diplomatic crisis with Egypt and ethnic strife at home.

The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington signed a $35,000-per-month contract with DC-based law firm Venable on Feb. 1. The contract is for an initial three months but can be extended.

The new hire comes as Ethiopia is under increasing pressure in Washington on several fronts.

Regional rival Egypt has been flexing its new lobbying muscle to try to convince President Joe Biden to follow his predecessor’s lead and side with Cairo in its dispute with Addis Ababa over Ethiopia’s new dam on the Nile.  And the country is facing a sanctions campaign over long-simmering ethnic tensions, including in the northern region of Tigray that broke out into open conflict in November. 

Read the story here.

New lobbying contracts drop below $1 million in January after post-election surge

Source: Department of Justice / Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

New foreign influence contracts slowed to a trickle in January following a surge in spending in the immediate aftermath of President Joe Biden‘s election.

Influence firms disclosed new lobbying and public relations deals worth a little over $800,000 with the Department of Justice last month, according to a Foreign Lobby Report review of Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) records. That’s down from $3 million in December and $6 million in November.

The top contract last month was Alexandria Group International‘s year-long agreement with the American University of Iraq – Baghdad. The firm led by former State Department official and Freedom House Vice President Marshall Harris is expected to be paid $252,000 to help get federal funding for the university, which began registering its first students last month.

In second place is Brownstein Hyatt‘s six-month, $180,000 contract with the Embassy of South Korea. Former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and former Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) are helping Seoul engage the Biden administration and the new Congress on a range of lingering policy disputes including trade with China and nuclear talks with North Korea.

Rounding out the top three, the government of Guyana has hired the firm that helped represent winning presidential candidate Irfaan Ali in last year’s bitter electoral dispute. The Cormac Group is to be paid $150,000 for six months as the South American country charts the path forward with its newfound oil wealth and looks for help in a territorial dispute with its neighbor Venezuela.

Read the full story here.


The US Justice Department has posted new advisory opinions that provide guidance on disclosure obligations under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Several relate to foreign media (h/t Aaron Schaffer). Read them all here.

Conservative British MP Bob Seely has co-authored a new report for the Henry Jackson Society calling on the UK to adopt tough new lobbying laws to battle nefarious influence campaigns from China and Russia, Politico London Influence reports. Per Politico, the report “warns that states hostile to British interests are cultivating links with ‘serving and retired politicians, civil servants, academic institutions, think tanks, and regulator bodies,’ and says only a proper Foreign Lobbying Act (dubbed ‘FOLO’) will bring that out into the open.”

Read the full Henry Jackson Society report here.


Nigeria: Mercury Public Affairs has deregistered Trent Lefkowitz, a senior associate in the firm’s Washington office, from its account with Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu is the self-described leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, a group that advocates for independence for the predominantly Christian southeastern region of Nigeria.

Nigerian-Americans lobby for sanctions over police massacre


China: BYD North America, a Los Angeles-based affiliate of China’s biggest electric car manufacturer, has hired Capitol Counsel to lobby on restrictions on government purchases of rolling stock. Registered on the account are Robert Diamond, a former aide to President Barack Obama and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Lyndon Boozer, a telecommunications expert. Crossroads Strategies has lobbied for Los Angeles-based BYD Motors since 2019.

China: Mercury Public Affairs has removed four registered agents from its new contract with the US subsidiary of Chinese solar energy giant JinkoSolar. The director of Mercury’s Washington office, Brent Patrone, and partners Nicole Flotteron, John Gallagher and Ekaterina Myagkova terminated their registrations on behalf of JinkoSolar (US) effective Feb. 9. Mercury Partner Daniel Marc Bank, Vice President Gregory Drilling and Managing Director Ian McCaleb remain active on the account.

Mercury has negotiated a year-long contract with JinkoSolar (US) worth $100,000 after being retained by the company in December to provide public relations services, including outreach to media. JinkoSolar share prices have boomed amid growing political support for renewable energy in both China and the US but the company is battling claims it uses forced Uyghur labor at its facilities in the western province of Xinjiang.

Chinese solar giant seeks lobbying help as Biden eyes renewables

Middle East

Qatar: Ogilvy Government Relations has signed a $240,000 contract with the Embassy of Qatar. The year-long contract is for “advice and assistance to Embassy in Congressional liaison and government affairs.” The firm previously represented the embassy as a subcontractor to Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough from June 2018 until February 2019. The firm has yet to register any individual agents on the account.

Separately, the State of Qatar has renewed its contract with New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton through 2021 at the rate of $10,000 per month. The original contract from 2018 outlined payments based on the hourly rates of the two agents on the account: Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and David Rivkin, the co-chair of Debevoise’s International Dispute Resolution Group. Last year the firm disclosed $239,000 in payments from Qatar.

Saudi Arabia / United Arab Emirates: Nearly 40 advocacy groups and dozens of individuals have penned a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to halt $36.5 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Foreign Policy reports, including F-35 fighter jets for the UAE and bombs the Saudis have used in Yemen. Signatories include Win Without War, the Project on Middle East Democracy and the Center for International Policy. Read the letter here.

Biden’s Yemen rethink sparks lobbying fight over next steps