Latest filings

Jack Ma’s Ant Group sets up in-house lobbying arm; ex-aide to Sen. King joins Quebec power company’s fight with Maine environmentalists; Yemen separatists renew lobbying: Monday’s Daily Digest

New lobbying registrations

Americas

Canada: Forbes Tate Partners has disclosed additional services it is performing this month for H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.), the US affiliate of Quebec public utility Hydro-Quebec. According to the filing with the US Justice Department, Forbes Tate is assembling a public relations team in Maine that will disseminate information and build support within the state for a proposed cross-border power line from Quebec to New England. The firm has registered a seven-person team as foreign agents working on the campaign: Stephanie Bernice Genco, Patrick Hynes, Kathleen Summers-Grice, Crystal Canney, Garrett Mason, Todd Benjamin and Rhonda Kay Bambrick. They will conduct “message development, media and public relations, and preparation and dissemination of informational materials” for the power line project. Canney is a former communications director for Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). Until recently she and Summers-Grice were registered as foreign agents for Saudi Arabia via Iowa-based Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group).

The new services cost a total of $147,500 but are included in the maximum amount of $449,000 authorized under a contract extension H.Q. Energy Services signed with Forbes Tate in November after opponents of the proposed $1 billion power line collected enough signatures to put a referendum about the project in front of voters during this fall’s gubernatorial election in Maine. Hydro-Quebec and its partner Central Maine Power say sending hydropower to New England will benefit the environment and reduce costs. Opponents are concerned about damage from the power line construction and Canada’s large-scale dams.

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Asia

Afghanistan: The US nonprofit Afghanistan-US Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council invited members of US Congress and Capitol Hill staff to a virtual panel on March 16 titled “Sustainable Peace in Afghanistan: The Vital Role of Parliament in the Peace Process.” Afghan lawmakers Mir Haider Afzaly, Naheed Farid and Haji Ajmal Rahmani, all members of the council’s board of advisers, were scheduled to discuss “their plans to implement and sustain a peace agreement” to end the war against the Taliban. The event was explicitly closed to the press.

The invitations were sent by former Republican Capitol Hill aide Matthew Wise. His firm Wise Capital Strategy is one of four that have signed on to represent the council over the past year. The council is funded by Afghan businessman Mohammad Gul Raoufi and headed by executive director Martin Rahmani in Washington. According to the invitation, the council’s mission is “to support legislation and policies that provide a better future for young Afghans and help the reformers in Afghanistan’s parliament move the country along the path to self sufficiency.”

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Azerbaijan: Mark Tavlarides of BGR Government Affairs shared emails with US policymakers staff last week on behalf of Azerbaijan’s embassy in Washington about the country’s purported efforts to mend relations with Armenia since the two countries’ Nov. 10 ceasefire. The emails highlight reports that the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) and Gazprom Export have agreed on a contract that allows Russian gas to be sent to Armenia via pipelines in Azerbaijan and Georgia. The agreement will last during scheduled preventive maintenance work carried out on the Russian section of the North Caucasus – Transcaucasia gas pipeline, Armenia’s regular natural gas source. Tavlarides wrote that the agreement “is another sign of how Azerbaijan is committed to helping Armenia reintegrate with its neighbors and heal the wounds of war by generating economic cooperation and growth.” Tavlarides also added a link to a letter President Joe Biden sent to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that wished the country a happy “Novrus Bayram,” a traditional holiday that celebrates the new year and the coming of spring.

China: Jack Ma‘s Ant Group has set up its own in-house lobbying arm to lobby on President Donald Trump‘s Jan. 5 order banning Chinese software applications including the Chinese financial technology giant’s Alipay payment platform. The registration was effective March 19 and covers “US regulatory issues regarding Ant Group and its subsidiaries such as Alipay US, Inc. including under Executive Order 13971.” Registered on the account are Victoria Liu Edison, Ant Group’s chief compliance officer for the Americas; senior vice president Douglas Feagin; and senior vice president (and former general counsel) Leiming Chen.

The registration comes just two weeks after Ant Group hired Akin Gump as its first-ever lobbying firm amid increasing scrutiny both in the United States and in China. Akin Gump has registered four partners with deep Democratic ties to lobby on the account: Veteran campaigner Charlie Johnson, the hiring partner for the firm’s Washington office; Ed Pagano, a former Senate liaison for President Barack ObamaHal Shapiro, former senior White House adviser for international economic affairs under President Bill Clinton; and Scott Parven.

While these are the Ant Group’s first lobbying registrations, the Alibaba Group, which owns a third of the company, has hired four lobbying firms — Greenberg Traurig (whose registered lobbyists include former Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.); Mercury Public Affairs; the Duberstein GroupSidley AustinBaker & Hostetler; and Story Partners. Alibaba also spent more than $3 million on in-house lobbying last year.

China: Wilson Global Communications reported $90,000 in fees from the Hong Kong-based China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) in the six months through February. Firm founder Julia Wilson has served as CUSEF’s US liaison since 2010 and helps CUSEF connect with historically black universities and colleges and their students. CUSEF also organizes trips for US journalists, state and local officials and former members of Congress.

South Korea: The nonprofit Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) has a new piece out crediting the Joe Biden administration for negotiating a new military burden-sharing deal for US forces in South Korea. Negotiations over the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) had strained the US-Korean relationship under President Donald Trump, who had demanded that Seoul pay up to 400% more to cover the cost of 28,500 US troops on the peninsula. The two sides have instead apparently agreed on a 13% increase through 2025. KEI has been registered as a foreign agent of the government-funded Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP) since 1990 to “raise awareness of Korea-related issues” through “educational outreach and promoting dialogue.”

“By acknowledging the importance of the alliance beyond purely financial considerations, the Biden administration has prevented a much greater crisis in the alliance with the signing of the new SMA, but there is still work to be done,” writes KEIA Director of Academic Affairs Kyle Ferrier. “For instance, Seoul will likely continue to be hesitant to formally participate in any regional or multilateral initiative perceived to be containing Beijing, such as an expanded G7 and efforts to decouple supply chains in industries of national security concern like semiconductors.”

Europe

Georgia: How’s this for poor timing: On the eve of Tuesday’s Senate hearing on perceived democratic backsliding under the ruling Georgian Dream, the party’s Washington lobby shop Hogan Lovells has disclosed emailing senators last year urging them to issue statements praising the sanctity of October elections that have instead triggered a political crisis in the country. Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), now a senior counsel at Hogan Lovells, emailed the offices of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and then-Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Oct. 25 to convey that the party founded by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili was expected to win handily and should be applauded. Instead the elections have been marred by fraud allegations that have rocked the country while the Georgian Dream’s subsequent crackdown on the opposition has sparked bipartisan criticism from Congress and the Joe Biden administration.

Email from Georgian Dream lobbyist Norn Coleman / Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)
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Middle East

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia’s lobbyists are on a mission to remind US business groups that there’s much more to the bilateral economic relationship than guns and oil. The Iowa-based Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group) has been sharing a new report from the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, a think tank in Riyadh, with key officials at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Regional Partnership. The Saudi Embassy in Washington hired LS2 Group in November 2019 for $126,500 per month as part of a campaign to showcase the country’s social and economic transformation across the US heartland amid bipartisan backlash in Washington.

“Though energy and security issues dominate discussion about the US-Saudi alliance, trade and investment flows between the two countries have steadily grown in size and diversity in recent years,” the report concludes. “These ties will likely grow further in the coming years given the extensive involvement of US firms in Saudi Arabia’s emerging entertainment and sports sectors, as well as the construction of its giga-projects.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • The US exported almost $24 billion in goods and services to Saudi Arabia in 2019, supporting 165,000 US jobs, with weapons sales only accounting for $3.1 billion;
  • US firms are currently fulfilling contracts to develop projects worth $700 billion in the kingdom;
  • Cumulative US investment in Saudi Arabia reached $10.8 billion in 2019, while the country’s sovereign wealth fund reported holding nearly $12.8 billion in US stocks at the end of 2020 (the Public Investment Fund is a tempting target for critics seeking to sanction Riyadh over the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi);
  • Saudi students have contributed more than $14 billion to the US economy since President George W. Bush and then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdelaziz prioritized education in 2005 to bolster ties following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks;
  • The Saudis have provided more than $1.7 billion in gifts and contracts to US universities since 2000;
  • Saudi Arabia held $134.4 billion in US Treasury securities as of December 2020, making it the 14th largest US debt holder in the world.

The report goes on to point out that Saudi Arabia has budgeted $64 billion for the arts, entertainment and tourism, industries where the United States excels, as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s 2030 Vision to shift the kingdom’s economy away from oil. The report was written by David Kenner, a visiting fellow at the King Faisal Center and a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington, and junior research fellow Kameal al-Ahmad.

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Yemen: Yemen’s separatist Southern Transitional Council has renewed its contract with New York nonprofit advisory group Independent Diplomat for the six months from March 1 through the end of August. The contract is for $10,000 per month, down from $20,000 per month previously. The firm will provide “diplomatic advice” to the council, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, to “improve its diplomatic engagement with the international community, in particular as part of the implementation of an inclusive and just diplomatic process — as set out in UNSC Resolution 2216 — that addresses the needs of South Yemen.” The firm’s work includes providing advice on “diplomatic communications and preparation for diplomatic meetings,” including via meetings with State Department officials and desk officers, notably at the US Mission to the UN.

Independent Diplomat has advised the Southern Transitional Council since 2018. Ryan Allman is the sole registered agent on the account. The council also opened a New York office to lobby the United Nations in addition to the Washington office it opened in 2018. The council declared self-rule last spring but struck a power-sharing arrangement with President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s UN-recognized government in December in an effort to reunite the two sides against their common foe, the Iran-backed Houthis.

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CAUGHT OUR EYE

Donald Trump administration veterans Victoria Coates and Rob Greenway have launched Vie et Arte Solutions, “a consulting firm that supports economic interaction that will further the Abraham Accords” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain., Politico reports. Coates notably served as Trump’s deputy national security adviser while Greenway was senior director for Middle Eastern and North African affairs at the National Security Council.

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