New in Lobbying, Top contracts

Burmese junta, Qatar dominate $6 million in new foreign influence contracts for March

Lobbying and public relations firms disclosed more than $6 million in new contracts with foreign principals last month, according to a Foreign Lobby Report review of Department of Justice filings, the most since Americans elected a new president in November.

The new business was dominated by Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe‘s $2 million contract with Myanmar’s military junta, which was first revealed by this site on March 5. The contract is for both public relations and lobbying services aimed at reducing the international blowback against the February military coup against Aung San Suu Kyi‘s ruling National League for Democracy, even as the focus to date has been on getting CNN and other news crews to the country to try to sell the military’s narrative as a pro-western source of stability.

Meanwhile the government of Qatar signed three new contracts worth a combined $1.5 million as the emirate continues to increase its lobbying firepower as it pursues regional policies that are starkly at odds of other US allies and partners including Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Embassy of Qatar signed up former aides to President Joe Biden and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) as well as a former chief of staff to Senate power-broker Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), while the Qatari Ministry of Defense has retained the services of retired Vice Adm. John “Fozzie” Miller, a former commander of the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet.

Rounding out the top three lobbying contracts, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which advocates for independence for Nigeria’s predominantly Christian southeast, signed a $750,000 contract with a former lobbyist for the country’s former military dictatorship and a retired US government official who helped put away Liberian President Charles Taylor. The BW Global Group of partners Jeffrey Birrell and Alan White replaces Mercury Public Affairs, which signed an $85,000-a-month ($1 million/year) contract with IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu in September 2019 but only only disclosed $254,000 in payments with the US Department of Justice for all of 2020. 

Meanwhile the Egyptian Embassy in Washington continues to build up its influence operations as President Biden vows “no more blank checks” for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Brownstein Hyatt, which signed a $65,000-a-month contract with the Egyptian Embassy last fall, has tapped Josh Holly and his one-man lobbying firm Holly Strategies Incorporated for $10,000 per month.

And the Turkish defense industry is also building up its lobbying team to get back into the F-35 program. Former Lockheed Martin executive Stephen Williams and his firm Pentagon Strategies have signed an $80,000 contract with Arnold & Porter to support the law firm’s representation of Ankara-based Defense Industry Technologies (SSTEK) and the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), the government office that manages Turkey’s defense industry.

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

US firms also disclosed nine public relations contracts with foreign principals worth a combined $1.5 million last month.

Squire Patton Boggs has expanded the scope of its work for the office of Angolan President Joao Lourenco to include advising the government on “strategic communications.” The firm is to be paid $600,000 for extra work conducted between Feb. 18 and June 17, on top of its existing $208,000 per month contract

Read all our past monthly reports here.

In other PR contracts of note, an opposition party in Benin has hired Sanitas International to draw media attention to issues with this month’s election and South Korea’s Gangwon Province has retained Washington PR firm West Wing Writers to assist in drafting an op-ed on “peace in the Korean peninsula” for US audiences.

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

Lobbying and public firms also disclosed 19 contract renewals worth a total of more than $5 million last month.

Dominating the ranking is the Turkish Embassy’s year-long, $1.25 million contract renewal with its longtime Washington law firm, Saltzman & Evinch. The law firm registered as a foreign agent of Turkey last summer, Foreign Lobby Report first reported July 6, after the Department of Justice concluded that it worked closely with lobbyists for the embassy.

The Turkish-US Business Council (TAIK) takes second place with a year-long renewal of its contract with Mercury Public Affairs. While Mercury ended a separate $1 million-a-year contract with the Embassy of Turkey last fall amid pressure from the Armenian-American diaspora, its contract renewal with TAIK contains a new clause that spells out an “active and direct role” for the Turkish government in the work being done on behalf of TAIK :

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