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Chinese oil giant hires NY firm for Biden outreach; Arnold & Porter grows El Salvador team amid US pushback over judges’ removal; report explores Saudis’ $31.5 million lobbying push

China oil giant’s US trading arm hires New York firm for Biden outreach

Sinopec gas station in Qinghai, China / NGCHIYUI via Shutterstock

The US trading arm of China’s largest oil and gas company has hired a New York lobbying firm as it looks to make nice with the Joe Biden administration after bilateral tensions under President Donald Trump disrupted the country’s oil and gas supply.

Houston-based Unipec America, Inc. hired Davidoff Hutcher & Citron on April 30 to provide “government relations consulting” and “regular updates on legislative and regulatory activities” related to commodities and trade that could impact the China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec). The contract runs from May 1 through April 30, 2021, and is worth $17,500 per month ($210,000 for the year).

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New lobbying filings

Todd Womack, the former chief of staff to former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), is lobbying for the ​International Justice Mission, a Washington non-governmental organization aimed at ending international human trafficking. Womack started Bridge Public Affairs in Chattanooga with other former Corker aides after the senator retired at the end of 2018. Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, authored several bills to fight human trafficking during his time in Congress.

Africa

Zimbabwe: Mercury Public Affairs is touting incremental democratic improvements in Zimbabwe as part of its campaign to lift US sanction on the country. These include the licensing of four independent broadcasters and the country’s listing as one of the five most-improved African countries from 2010 to 2019 in the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance (the country ranked 33rd out of 54 countries). The firm is working for the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (MFA) as a subcontractor to Mercury International UK. While the firm has not disclosed its contract with the Zimbabwean government, periodical filings required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) indicate that the firm received $813,000 from the ministry in 2020.

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Americas

Ecuador: White shoe law firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer has registered managing director Gregory Louer and policy adviser Amy Budner Smith as foreign agents on its contract with Ecuador. The country’s Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries initially hired the firm for $900,000 from November 2020 through May 2021 to help push forward talks on a free trade deal begun under President Donald Trump. Louer previously served as an aide to former Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) when she was still in the House; Smith served as an aide to Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). Both also lobby for Argentina.

Arnold & Porter’s lobbying is led by former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon and Raul Herrera, a former general counsel to the Inter-American Investment Corporation. Joining the push as Arnold & Porter subcontractors are the Glover Park GroupBenitez Strategies and Ferox Strategies.

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El Salvador: Arnold & Porter has registered policy adviser Amy Budner Smith and senior policy specialist Adrienne Jackson as foreign agents for the office of President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador. The populist president hired the firm in March for $1.2 million for one year as his government  looks to negotiate a $1.3 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The effort is being led by former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon and Raul Herrera, a former general counsel to the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank group. Smith is a former aide to Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), while Jackson previously worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) when he chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee. Both also lobby for Argentina and Ecuador.

El Salvador has been building up its lobbying presence in Washington, hiring Democratic-led public relations firm Rational 360 as well as a new Washington company called Invest El Salvador as Bukele looks to reset relations with the United States after defeating the country’s established political parties. The president however is facing increasing international criticism for what many see as authoritarian moves, most recently the removal of top judges and the country’s attorney general. This week US special envoy for Central America Ricardo Zuniga finally sat down with Bukele after the Salvadoran president declined to meet with him during a previous visit.

“Our point of view is that the decision of May 1 was not in accordance with the law, nor with the constitution, nor with the legal procedure of the constitution,” Zuniga said at a press conference after the meeting. According to Reuters, Zuniga “warned that a lack of judicial independence would affect the investment climate in the country and said he would discuss ‘next steps’ with the White House, State Department and US Congress on his return to Washington.”

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Asia

Taiwan: The Daschle Group has renewed its $25,000-a-month lobbying contract with Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), for another year, effective April 1. The firm, a public policy advisory of Baker Donelson, has represented Taiwan since 2015. The firm’s founder, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), lobbies on the account along with this son, Daschle Group President Nathan Daschle, and Vice President Veronica Pollock.

Europe

Russia/Ukraine: The lobbying firm representing Ukraine’s gas industry is warning policymakers on Capitol Hill that the Joe Biden administration’s reluctance to impose more sanctions on Russia’s gas pipeline to Germany is enabling the project to move forward. “In the absence of statutorily required US sanctions under the bipartisan PEESA (Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act ) and PEESCA (Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act) laws, Moscow has deployed a second pipe-laying vessel, the Akademik Chersky, and additional support vessels to engage in pipe-laying for Nord Stream 2,” Yorktown Solutions President Daniel Vajdich wrote in a May 12 email disclosed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The Federation of Employees of the Oil and Gas Industry of Ukraine recently renewed its year-long, $960,000 contract with Yorktown through 2021. Ukraine’s natural gas industry is dominated by national oil and gas company Naftogaz, which Yorktown previously lobbied for through 2018. Yorktown is led by President Daniel Vajdich, a former Republican aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) who has advised the presidential campaigns of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), then-Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). Also registered on the account are Yorktown Vice President Jonathan Gregory and former SFRC Democratic staffer Brittany Beaulieu.

At least three firms are lobbying on the other side of the issue, spending a combined $1.05 million in the first quarter of 2021:

  • Roberti Global has represented Nord Stream 2 AG, the Swiss-based company owned by Russia’s Gazprom, since July 2017 and disclosed $600,000 in the first quarter of 2021. The firm’s founder Vincent Roberti lobbies on the account.
  • BGR Government Affairs also represents Nord Stream 2 AG. BGR International Practice head Walker Roberts has been the sole lobbyist on the account since its inception in April 2020. BGR disclosed $240,000 in payments from the company in the first quarter of 2021.
  • Finally, McLarty Associates has lobbied since August 2017 for the five energy companies with which Nord Stream 2 AG has signed financing agreements: Austria’s OMV Aktiengesellschaft, Germany’s Wintershall Dea and Uniper, France’s Engie, and Shell International of The Netherlands. Former US Ambassador to Germany Richard Burt lobbies on the contract along with Francis Burwell, a senior director at McLarty and distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative. In the first quarter, the firm reported $60,000 each in payments from OMV and Wintershall and $30,000 each from the other three firms, for a total of $210,000.

Middle East

Qatar: Washington public relations firm Proof Strategies terminated senior director of strategy Chris Burright‘s registration as a foreign agent for Qatar effective May 7. Proof has advised and assisted the embassy with its public communications and helped monitor media coverage since May 2020. The firm bills by the hour for a maximum of $71,000 per month.

Qatar: The Embassy of Qatar has extended its contract with Blueprint Advisors for another eight months from May 1 through the end of the year for $60,000 per month, the same rate as before. The firm has represented Qatar since 2018 and assists the embassy and the consulate general in New York in connecting with state and local government authorities in the state of New York “for the purpose of advancing shared interests in trade, investment, infrastructure and related issues.”

United Arab Emirates: London-based Project Associates UK has terminated its registration as a foreign agent for the National Media Council of the United Arab Emirates as of Dec. 31, 2020, according to a new lobbying disclosure. The firm registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in 2017 but has never disclosed any US-related payments or activities. The firm was originally hired to “create and promote counter-narratives that discourage young people from extremism and to promote greater collaboration between the US and UAE on counter-terrorism;” “note the Arab world’s positive contributions to regional dynamics and policy achievements, and global alliances”; and “raise awareness about state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East.”

UAE: The UAE Embassy in Washington paid the Harbour Group almost $2.2 million in the six months through April. The firm notably helped coordinate Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba‘s appearance at liberal group J Street‘s virtual conference last month.


Caught our eye

Ben Freeman, the director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative and a regular columnist for Foreign Lobby Report, has a new report out on the Saudi lobby in 2020. The topline: The Saudis spent $31.5 million on lobbying last year as the kingdom shifted its attention to the US heartland amid a bipartisan backlash in Washington over the war in Yemen and the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi — a shift we’ve tracked closely on this site:

Saudis reach out directly to US states amid bipartisan blowback in Washington

Saudi Arabia looks West after Midwest lobby push

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