Asia, Business & trade, Human rights, Top Stories, US-China tensions

Meet the former US lawmakers lobbying for China, Inc.

Former lawmakers Ed Royce, David Vitter and Trent Lott were all known for standing up to China during their time in Congress.

As a member and later chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Royce (R-Calif.) signed on to several bills singling out the country while insisting in 2007 that human rights not take a back seat to warming commercial and diplomatic ties with fellow communist nation Vietnam.

Then-Sen. Vitter (R-La.) co-sponsored an amendment in 2015 requiring the Barack Obama administration to take religious freedom into consideration when negotiating trade agreements.

And as Senate Majority Leader back in 2000, Lott (R-Miss.) held up legislation to extend permanent normal trade relations with China over concerns over the country’s arms sales to Pakistan and other countries.

Today they share a different affinity: All three lobby for Chinese companies that have been accused of posing a national security threat to the United States.

They are among 12 former members of Congress currently registered as foreign agents for Chinese companies or lobbyists for their US affiliates, according to a Foreign Lobby Report review of lobbying disclosures under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), which tracks lobbying by domestic and foreign private companies. Several other former lawmakers represented Chinese companies until recently and are mentioned in the entries below.

Lobbying by Chinese companies has surged in recent years as the Donald Trump administration and bipartisan majorities in Congress have taken an increasingly dark view of the country’s economic and technological prowess, growing military power and human rights abuses. Chinese companies have responded by hiring their own bipartisan teams to help navigate increasingly fraught relations with the United States that have shown no sign of any quick turn-around under the Joe Biden administration.

The revolving door has outraged China hawks, who accuse former lawmakers of selling out for an easy payday.

“Bipartisanship may be in short supply these days, but there is one major issue where both political parties are aligned, and that is in confronting China’s rampant trade and human rights abuses,” said Craig Singleton, a former national security official and adjunct fellow analyzing great-power competition with China at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. “While it is  disappointing to see former, well-respected members of Congress representing companies accused of engaging in human rights and other abuses, they represent a very small subset of politicians willing to overlook China’s malign behavior.”

Blowback has sometimes been swift. Earlier this year former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) deregistered as a foreign agent for Chinese video surveillance company Hikvision when news of her engagement created an immediate backlash (Hikvision is notably accused of helping the Chinese government carry out human rights abuses against the Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang.


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Advocates for improved US-China ties however welcome the assist from former lawmakers at a time when escalating bilateral tensions and political polarization at home leave little room for nuanced debate.

“It’s probably accurate to say that some current members of Congress have more nuanced views on China than their public remarks reflect,” said US-China Business Council spokesman Doug Barry. “It makes sense given that these folks represent constituents that depend on China trade for their jobs. I’m hoping for more nuance in the future. The relationship deserves and needs it.”

Click the names below to read more about the former lawmakers’ backgrounds, their Chinese clients’ lobbying priorities and their firms’ payoff from China, Inc.


Former Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.)

Firm: Policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1993-2019; chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Chinese clients: Tencent America (technology); Omnivision Technologies* (imaging)

* terminated March 31, 2021

Lobbying issues: Tencent owns WeChat, a ubiquitous messaging app in China. President Donald Trump targeted the company with an executive order on Aug. 6, 2020 alleging that it poses an economic and national security threat and accusing it of capturing user data and censoring content. The move triggered a flurry of lobbying hires, with Tencent setting up its own in-house lobbying arm last summer while also hiring Brownstein along with New York-based law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and New York lawyer Toby Myerson. Brownstein lobbied Congress and the Department of Commerce in the first half of 2021.

Separately, Brownstein registered to lobby for Omnivision in October 2020 on “issues related to international trade.” The company has required a special US license to continue supplying its image sensors to Huawei since President Trump banned global suppliers from selling microchips that US technology to the Chinese communications giant without a special license starting Sept. 15, 2020. Brownstein was the company’s only registered lobbying firm until its termination on March 31, 2021.

Royce registered to lobby on both accounts since their initial 2020 registration.

Payoff: Brownstein Hyatt has disclosed $730,000 in payments from Tencent since registering to lobby for the technology conglomerate in August 2020 (including $400,000 in the first half of 2021).

The firm also reported $100,000 in payments from Omnivision during its latest engagement for the company ($60,000 in Q1 2021). Brownstein previously lobbied for Omnivision in 2015-2016 and reported $210,000 in payments at the time.

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Former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.)

DAVID VITTER

Firm: Partner at Mercury Public Affairs

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1999 to 2005; US Senate, 2005 to 2017. Senior member of the banking, environment, judiciary and small business committees.

Chinese clients: Hikvision USA (video surveillance); YCI Methanol One (chemicals).

TOBY MOFFETT

Firm: Co-chairman at Mercury Public Affairs

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1975 to 1983; chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment, Energy and Natural Resources 

Chinese clients: Alibaba Group Holding (e-commerce and technology); Hikvision USA

Lobbying issues: The US accuses Chinese video surveillance company Hikvision of posing a cybersecurity risk and enabling human rights abuses. Mercury and Vitter began representing the company’s California-based affiliate for $125,000 per month in August 2018 just as Congress voted to ban US federal agencies from procuring Hikvision video surveillance products over spying and hacking concerns. Moffett joined the account in June 2021 following his move to Mercury in October 2020.

Citing human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the Commerce Department followed up in 2019 by adding Hikvision to its list of companies that require US government approval to buy US-made parts or components. And in June 2020, the Department of Defense designated Hikvision as a “Communist Chinese military company,” restricting investment in the company by US persons (see Roskam/Inspur Group entry below). Also registered to work for Hikvision are lobbying firm Sidley Austin and public relations firm BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe).

Moffett also lobbies for e-commerce giant Alibaba on “technology policy issues, access to US capital markets and issues related to e-commerce.” Mercury has represented the company since August 2020 (for more on Alibaba’s lobbying see Albert Wynn and Rodney Frelinghuysen below).

Vitter for his part also lobbies for YCI Methanol One, a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s Yuhuang Chemical Company. The company is building a $1.85 billion methanol production plant in Louisiana but has been hurt by tariffs imposed by both China and the United States. Lobbying alongside Mercury until this March was Bold Strategies of Baton Rouge, whose founder Kyle Ruckert also heads political action committees for Louisiana’s two sitting senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, both Republicans.

Vitter has been registered to lobby on both accounts since the beginning.

Two other former lawmakers, ex-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and ex-Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) of Alston & Bird, lobbied last year for Wanhua Chemical, another Chinese company (the firm terminated its lobbying for Wanhua Chemical (America) last fall, after disclosing $470,000 in payments since first registering to lobby for the company in August 2019).

Former Rep. Ronnie Shows (D-Miss.) also lobbied for Wanhua via AUX Initiatives from August 2018 to February 2019. Wanhua is a leading manufacturer of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), used to make foam insulation and padding. The company lobbied against US tariffs on Chinese imports of the product last year. Wanhua pulled the plug on a $1.25 billion MDI plant in Louisiana in 2019 after the US imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Payoff: Mercury Public Affairs has disclosed almost $3.5 million in fees and expenses from Hikvision USA since registering as a foreign agent for the company in August 2018 through the end of 2020.

Mercury has disclosed $320,000 in payments from Alibaba, including $170,000 in the first half of 2021.

Finally, the firm has also disclosed more than $1 million from Yuhuang Chemical Inc. since registering to lobby for the company in October 2017.

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Former Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.)

Firm: Founder of Lee Terry Consulting in Omaha

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1999-2015. chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.

Chinese clients: Huawei Technologies USA (telecommunications)

Lobbying issues: Lee Terry is expected to lobby on “issues related to telecommunications and infrastructure” for the embattled telecommunications giant. The Donald Trump administration accused the company of building backdoors into its equipment that could be exploited for spying by Beijing and added it to a trade blacklist in May 2019. The following year, the US barred chipmakers that use US technology from selling chips to Huawei without a license. The US has also put pressure on its allies not to allow Huawei to build their 5G communications infrasctructure.

Five other firms are actively lobbying for Huawei: Steptoe & Johnson; Sidley Austin; New York-based consulting firm J.S. Held; the LeMunyon Group of Glenn LeMunyon, a former floor manager under House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas); and the law office of Stephen James Binhak in Miami.

Meanwhile Racepoint GlobalRuder Finn and ADLAB are providing public services to the company. Huawei Technologies USA reported $1.06 million in in-house lobbying in the second quarter of 2021, up from $470,000 for all of 2020 and the most since the last quarter of 2019.

Payoff: Unknown (the firm registered effective June 1, 2021, and has yet to disclose any payments).


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Former Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)

Firm: Partner at Sidley Austin

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 2007-2019. Senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Chinese clients: Yum China Holdings (food); Inspur Group (cloud computing)

Lobbying issues: Shanghai-based Yum China Holdings is China’s biggest restaurant company. The company hired Sidley Austin to lobby on the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which aims to tighten oversight of Chinese-owned corporations and was signed into law in December 2020. According to Nikkei Asia, “even Yum China, China’s largest restaurant chain operator and previously a unit of US-based Yum Brands, may not be spared. While the operator of the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell brands in China is registered in the U.S., its audit documentation is in the mainland.”

Roskam and Sidley Austin also lobby for the Inspur Group regarding the group’s inclusion on a Department of Defense list of companies operating in the US that are “Communist Chinese military companies.” The list was mandated by Section 1237 of the annual defense bill for 1999 but the Pentagon first published a list of companies, including Inspur, in June 2020. President Trump followed up with an executive order that November banning US persons from investing in the companies.

Sidley Austin is the only firm registered to lobby for either Yum China Holdings or the Inspur Group.

Roskam has been registered to lobby on both accounts since the beginning.

Payoff: Sidley Austin has disclosed receiving $380,000 from Yum China Holdings since registering to lobby for the company in June 2020 ($100,000 in the first half of 2021).

The firm has also disclosed $170,000 in payments from Inspur Group since registering as the company’s lobbying firm in October 2020 (less than $5,000 in Q1 and Q2 2021).

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Former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.)

TRENT LOTT

Firm: Director and senior partner at Crossroads Strategies

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1973 to 1989; United States Senate, 1989 to 2007. Senate Majority Leader.

Chinese clients: TikTok Inc. (social media platform); BYD Motors Inc. (electric vehicle manufacturer)

JOHN BREAUX

Firm: Director and senior partner at Crossroads Strategies

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1972 to 1987; US Senate, 1987 to 2005. Deputy Majority Whip and senior member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Chinese clients: TikTok Inc. (social media platform); BYD Motors Inc. (electric vehicle manufacturer)

Lobbying issues: Crossroads Strategies registered to lobby for the US subsidiary of viral Chinese video app TikTok in December 2020 after President Donald Trump targeted the company over accusations that the app captures user data and censors content. The president’s Aug. 6, 2020 order sought to force TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to sell the app to US owners. The company got a reprieve in February when the Joe Biden administration shelved those plans indefinitely and ordered a review of its predecessor’s efforts to address potential security risks from Chinese tech companies.

Crossroads Strategies is the first hire for TikTok. Parent company Bytedance has been lobbying since 2019 (see Reps. Gordon and Denham entry below).

The two men also lobby for the US subsidiary of Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD. Los Angeles-based BYD Motors Inc. is fighting a provision in a two-year-old defense authorization bill that bans federal dollars from being used to buy passenger rail cars or buses from state-owned or state-controlled enterprises. Crossroads has represented the company since April 2019.

Both Lott and Breaux have been registered to lobby for TikTok since the beginning but were only added to the BYD account in the second quarter of 2021.

Payoff: TikTok has paid Crossroads Strategies $250,000 since hiring the firm at the end of 2020, including $110,000 in each of the first two quarters of 2021.  The firm has lobbied for BYD since April 2019 and had disclosed $460,000 in payments as of the second quarter of 2021.

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Former Reps. Barton Gordon (D-Tenn.) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)

BARTON GORDON

Firm: Partner at K&L Gates

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1985 to 2011. Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

Chinese clients: ByteDance Inc. (entertainment); DJI* (drone technology)

* lobbying registration terminated

JEFF DENHAM

Firm: Government affairs counselor at K&L Gates

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 2011 to 2019. Senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Chinese clients: ByteDance Inc. (entertainment); Riot Games (video game developer); DJI* (drone technology); Complete Genomics* (life sciences company)

* lobbying registration terminated

Lobbying issues: Bytedance, TikTok’s parent company, launched in-house lobbying operations in June 2019 as the Donald Trump administration began to raise issues that the app could share users’ data with the Chinese government. K&L Gates registered to lobby for the company in October 2019. Also registered to lobby for the company are the American Continental Group and Mehlman Castagnetti (Monument Advocacy terminated its registration for the company on Feb. 8).

Gordon has been lobbying for ByteDance since K&L Gates’ initial registration in October 2019. Denham joined the account in the second quarter of 2020.

Both men also lobbied for Chinese drone-maker DJI in 2020. The US Commerce Department added DJI to its “entity list” restricting US technology exports to the company on Dec. 18, 2020 amid accusations that the company helped the Chinese government commit human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. K& Gates had been registered to lobby for DJI since 2016 but terminated its registration this March, with no lobbying activity reported in the first quarter of 2021.

K&L Gates also registered to lobby for California-based videogame developer Riot Games, which is owned by Chinese technology conglomerate Tencent, in March 2021. The firm is lobbying on “issues related to technology policy and video game industry, including data security, privacy and content moderation.” Last year the Donald Trump administration inquired about the security protocols the maker of hit e-sports game League of Legends has in place to handle Americans’ personal data, Bloomberg reportedPlatinum Advisors has been registered to lobby regarding data privacy and intellectual property for Riot Games since February 2020. Denham lobbies for Riot Games, but not Gordon.

From April to July 2020, Denham also lobbied on behalf of Complete Genomics, a life sciences company that developed and commercialized a DNA sequencing platform for human genome sequencing and analysis. Complete Genomics was acquired by BGI-Shenzhen in 2013. K&L Gates registered as a subcontractor for Clark Street Associates effective April 2020 and terminated its registration on June 30, 2020.

Payoff: K&L Gates has disclosed $280,000 from ByteDance since October 2019, including $80,000 in the first half of 2021.

The firm also received $110,000 from Riot Games since registering to lobby for the company in the first quarter.

For past work, the firm has disclosed almost $1.25 million in payments from DJI from 2016 through 2020, as well as $40,000 for its three-month contract for Complete Genomics/Clark Street Associates.

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Former Reps. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.)

ALBERT WYNN

Firm: Senior director at Greenberg Traurig

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1993-2008. Senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Chinese clients: Alibaba Group Holding (e-commerce and technology).

RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN

Firm: Senior director at Greenberg Traurig

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1995-2019; chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Chinese clients: Alibaba Group Holding

Lobbying issues: Greenberg joined e-commerce giant Alibaba’s roster of lobbying firms in June 2019. The company lobbies on a wide range of issues, including intellectual property, international trade, e-commerce and technology. Wynn and Frelinghuysen for their part focused on “potential legislative and regulatory actions regarding access to US capital markets” in the first quarter of 2021.

Wynn has lobbied for the group since the second quarter of 2020, replacing former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.). Frelinghuysen joined Wynn on the account in the third quarter of 2020.

Also registered to lobby on for Alibaba are Mercury Public Affairs (see Toby Moffett above), Sidley AustinBaker & Hostetler and Story Partners. Alibaba also spent more than $3 million on in-house lobbying last year.

Most recently, the Ant Group, which is owned by Alibaba co-founder and former executive chairman Jack Ma, 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. Akin Gump registered as the Ant Group’s first-ever lobbying firm in January amid increasing scrutiny both in the United States and in China.

Payoff: Greenberg Traurig has disclosed receiving $410,000 in payments from Alibaba since registering to lobby for the group in June 2019 ($100,000 in the first half of 2021).

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Former Rep. Don Bonker (D-Wash.)

Firm: Executive director at APCO Worldwide

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1975 to 1989; chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee panel on International Economic Policy and Trade

Chinese clients: China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO)*

* No lobbying since Q3 2020 but registration remains active

Lobbying issues: APCO Worldwide has been registered to lobby on US-China maritime issues for the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) since 1999. The firm last lobbied Congress, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the US Coast Guard and US Customs & Border Protection in the third quarter of 2020 on “monitoring U.S. maritime and trade policies.”

Payoff: APCO had been paid around $10,000 a quarter for years but last reported a payment above the $5,000 reporting threshold in the fourth quarter of 2019. Bonker has been registered to lobby on the account since the beginning. He specializes in Chinese investments in the United States for APCO.


RECENT TERMINATION

Former Rep. Jon Christensen (R-Neb.)

Firm: Managing partner at Appo-G of Franklin, Tennessee

Congressional service: House of Representatives, 1995 to 1999; member of the House Ways and Means Committee

Chinese clients: OnePlus* (smartphones); ZTE** (telecommunications)

* Terminated April 1, 2021; no lobbying activity since 4th quarter of 2020

** Terminated Sept. 2020; no lobbying activity since 4th quarter of 2019

Lobbying issues: Appo-G registered in October 2020 as a lobbyist for the Chinese smartphone manufacturer’s US affiliate, OnePlus USA Corporation of Irving, Texas. The firm helps the smartphone maker with visa applications.

Christensen also lobbied for ZTE from the time of Appo-G’s registration for the company in 2009 until the fourth quarter of 2019 (the registration was officially terminated Sept. 30, 2020). ZTE pleaded guilty in 2017 to illegally exporting US technology to Iran and North Korea in violation of trade sanctions. The Department of Commerce fined the company $1.19 billion, the largest-ever US fine for export control violations. The Donald Trump administration eased a seven-year ban on ZTE buying American parts the following year after China raised concerns that it could put one of its major employers out of business.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) of Hogan Lovells also lobbied for ZTE from the time of the firm’s lobbying registration for the company in April 2018 until its termination on March 1, 2020.

Coleman is also a registered lobbyist for Canadian Solar, a Canadian maker of solar panels that has been accused of operating a solar wind farm in the Xinjiang region of China near a Uyghur re-education camp. Former Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) and Scott Klug (R-Wis.) also previously lobbied for Canadian Solar via Foley & Lardner. That engagement was terminated Dec. 31, 2019.

Payoff: Appo-G disclosed $10,000 in payments from OnePlus in the fourth quarter of 2020 but did not lobby in the first quarter of 2021.

The company has also disclosed $1.1 million in payments from ZTE since 2009.

As for Hogan Lovells, the firm disclosed almost $6.25 million in payments from ZTE between April 2018 and March 2020.

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Update: This report was last updated on July 26, 2021 to note new lobbying, terminations and spending for Q2 2021.

Mikayla Easley contributed to this report.

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