Qatar has hired a pair of former aides to President Joe Biden and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) as the Gulf emirate adds a fifth firm to its lobbying stable since the November election.
The Embassy of Qatar in Washington has signed a $40,000-per-month contract with Empire Consulting Group through January 2023, according to a new filing with the US Department of Justice. The firm will lobby Congress and the executive branch on “federal policy matters of importance to the embassy,” according to a contract signed by the embassy’s security attache, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Abdulaziz Al Nassr.
Registered to lobby on the contract are Empire Consulting founder and managing partner Mike McKay and consultant Eulice Brandon Garrett. McKay spent a decade as a top foreign policy adviser for Meeks before leaving Congress for the lobbying world in 2007. Garrett for his part served as Biden’s policy adviser during President Barack Obama‘s 2012 re-election campaign and has years of congressional experience, including as policy director for the Congressional Black Caucus and most recently as chief of staff for Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) until his departure in 2016. He previously represented Qatar as a subcontractor for law firm Nelson Mullins from September 2017 to November 2019.
The Qatari embassy has now hired five firms with close ties to the new administration and the Democratic Congress since the November election. Together the contracts add up to $126,000 per month — or $1.5 million a year — in extra lobbying firepower. Doha has another two dozen firms on its payroll and spent almost $10 million on US lobbying in 2019, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Most recently, the embassy retained Integrated Strategy Group (ISG) and Hayden Rogers, a former chief of staff to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the key swing vote on many issue in the 50-50 Senate. Veteran Democratic lobbyist Robert Crowe‘s new firm, RB Crowe, is also working for the embassy (Crowe previously lobbied for the embassy via Nelson Mullins), as is Ogilvy Government Relations. And Nelson Mullins recently hired Ralph Nurnberger, a former legislative liaison for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and his firm Nurnberger & Associates as a subcontractor on its account with the embassy.
In addition, just this month Qatar’s Defense Ministry hired a former commander of the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. Vice Adm. John “Fozzie” Miller and his Virginia-based Fozzie Miller Group (FMG) are to be paid $300,000 over a year to “advance defense goals and advise on issues related to technical military matters,” including the country’s maritime security and naval capabilities.”
Neither the embassy and Empire Consulting responded to requests for comment. But in a January interview with Foreign Lobby Report, former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a top lobbyist with Nelson Mullins, made it clear that the battle for influence in Washington between Qatar and its critics wasn’t over even after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ended their three-and-a-half year blockade against the country that month.
“Qatar isn’t going to change its basic ideology, which is more in tune with Europe and the United States [under Biden] particularly than its neighbors’,” Moran said. “There’s going to be continuing friction in that way.”
Empire’s hiring also fits into a pattern of countries beefing up their connections to Black lawmakers in recent months as the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) enjoys unprecedented political clout in its 50-year history, with record numbers of lawmakers in Congress and atop key committees and former CBC member Kamala Harris serving as vice president. Empire itself was hired by Taiwan’s de facto embassy earlier this year, the firm’s first foreign sovereign client in its 9-year-history.
“There’s an uptick in outreach to the CBC across the board in the lobbying space,” Michael Williams of The Williams Group, a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia and India, said in a recent appearance on The Influencers, the weekly podcast co-hosted by Foreign Lobby Report and Richard Levick of the international communications agency LEVICK. “When you have a single caucus that essentially represents potentially 32 % of the entire House Democratic Caucus, it’s incumbent on anyone who has an interest in dealing with Congress to deal with that particular caucus.”