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Mexican governor charged with embezzlement over US lobbying; Morocco hires Texas PR firm; Canadian province joins Keystone lobby fight

Mexican governor charged with embezzlement over US lobbying

Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca / Houston Baptist University

Mexican prosecutors have added embezzlement to the list of charges against Tamaulipas Gov. Garcia Cabeza de Vaca after he hired a Houston law firm to lobby the US Treasury Department over alleged leaks of confidential financial information to the Mexican press, Mexican media report. Cabeza de Vaca hired Gerger Hennessy & McFarlane in April to stop Mexican prosecutors from allegedly leaking records from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Cabeza de Vaca is accused of colluding with organized crime to finance a lavish lifestyle, including several properties on the US side of the border.

The contract with the firm is in the governor’s personal capacity. His wife, Mariana Gomez Garcia, paid a $100,000 deposit on April 12, according to Gerger Hennessy & McFarlane‘s lobbying disclosure. The head of Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit, Santiago Nieto, said his office is investigating whether the governor used government funds to hire the firm.

Read the Foreign Lobby Report story that started it all here.


New lobbying filings

International : Connecticut law firm Wiggin and Dana terminated its registration on behalf of the International Criminal Court on April 25, according to a new lobbying disclosure. The termination came just weeks after the Joe Biden administration rescinded the Donald Trump administration’s sanctions on Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, the court’s head of jurisdiction, over the ICC’s investigation into whether US forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. The ICC retained the firm pro bono last fall to lobby against the sanctions and prepare a civil suit if they weren’t reversed.

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Africa

Mali: New York nonprofit advisory group Independent Diplomat contacted US Ambassador to Mali Dennis Hankins and US Mission to the UN expert Briana Olsen following the April 13 assassination of the leader of the Coordination of the Movements of the Azawad, Ould Sidati. The firm has represented the umbrella group of former Tuareg rebels since 2017 following their 2015 peace accord with the Malian government.

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Americas

Canada (Quebec): The US affiliate of Canadian public utility Hydro-Quebec paid Maine public relations firm Blaze Partners $335,000 in the six months through April for a campaign to promote a proposed $1 billion power line project to carry hydroelectricity to New England. The proposal has run into strong opposition from environmentalists worried about the potential damage to the Maine woods. H.Q. Energy Services (US) also has a PR contract with Washington-based Forbes Tate Partners from April through August for a maximum amount of $758,500 and recently hired its first lobbying firm, Capitol Counsel, to lobby on “issues regarding clean energy transmission projects and the value proposition of hydro power.”

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Canada (Saskatchewan): The province of Saskatchewan has joined neighboring Alberta in lobbying to reverse the Joe Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to a new lobbying filing for the six months through April. Lobbyists for Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough held video calls earlier this year with Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) as well as with Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), all lawmakers whose states are suing the administration. The firm also held a video call with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), a member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee and one of just 28 House Democrats who voted to approve the pipeline back in 2015.

The disclosure comes as the Saskatchewan government announced last month that it would be filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. The crude oil pipeline starts in Alberta and crosses Saskatchewan before entering Montana on its way to refineries in Texas. Alberta is a part-owner of the pipeline and has hired three firms to lobby on the pipeline: Crossroads Strategies, Crestview Strategy and JDA Frontline Partners. Nelson Mullins for its part has represented Saskatchewan since 2009 and previously focused its lobbying on rare earth minerals.

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Mexico: Mexico’s economy ministry (Secretaria de Economia) has renewed its lobbying contract with Greenberg Traurig for $300,000 for the 10 months from March through the end of the year, according to a belated lobbying filing. The ministry first hired the firm for $30,000 per month in 2019 to lobby on passage and implementation of the US-Mexico-Canadian Free Trade Agreement.

Asia

Japan: New York public relations firm Marathon Strategies has terminated its registration on behalf of the Japanese consulate in New York effective March 9. The firm has been registered to work for the consulate since 2015 and disclosed $87,500 in consulting fees in the six months through April.

Kazakhstan: The Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan has renewed its lobbying contract with Greenberg Traurig for the 2021 calendar year for $600,000, according to a newly disclosed filing. That’s down from $850,000 last year. The firm has represented the ministry since 2018.

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Europe

Republika Srpska: McGinnis Lochridge, which represents the government of the Bosnian Serb entity, disseminated statements from Republika Srpska President Zeljka Cvijanovic and National Assembly Speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic objecting to the appointment of former German minister Christian Schmidt as the new High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Middle East

Iraq (Kurdistan Regional Government): The Washington office of the Kurdistan Regional Government has signed a new $20,000-per-month lobbying contract with Greenberg Traurig, the same rate as previously. The contract can be terminated by either party at any time. Greenberg will “assist KRG in developing and executing a strategy to promote awareness and understanding of Kurdistan’s interests among U.S. policy makers, business leaders, and media” and “work to ensure that decision-makers have a full and accurate picture of why the KRG deserves special attention and the full support of the United States.” The firm began representing the KRG in 2007.

Morocco: The Embassy of Morocco in Washington has hired Austin-based Clout Public Affairs to provide “communication services including messaging, planning and media placement” and to highlight “issues of common
interest” between the two countries. The engagement was effective April 1 but was just uploaded to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) database. Neither Clout nor the embassy responded to requests for comment about the terms of the agreement, which was not the result of a formal written contract.

Clout is a division of Kansas City-based Republican consulting outfit Axiom Strategies. The firm was previously registered as a foreign agent for the government of Cameroon. Two of its agents, senior vice presidents Abhineet “Jimmy” Soni and Catherine Frazier, are registered as subcontractors to former Attorney General John Ashcroft‘s Ashcroft Law Firm on behalf of the government of the Congo.

This is the Moroccan government’s first new FARA disclosure since Rabat parted ways with its Republican-affiliated lobbying team following President Donald Trump‘s defeat. The embassy still has a $40,000-a-month contract with ThirdCircle, the firm headed by Richard Smotkin, a longtime friend of Scott Pruitt who arranged a controversial trip to Morocco in December 2017 for the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator during which Pruitt pushed US natural gas exports.

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Qatar: Qatar lobbying firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough held phone calls with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as early as November to discuss the “transition to a new administration and importance of the bilateral relationship,” according to a lobbying disclosure for the six months through April. Former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) heads the account. During that period the firm notably lobbied on arms sales to Gulf countries and the US air base at Al Udeid.

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Qatar: RF Binder Partners of New York has renewed its subcontracting agreement with Memac Ogilvy & Mather for public relations work on behalf of the Qatar Foundation. The contract runs from April 1, 2021 through March 2022 and is worth $27,300 per month, down from $30,000 per month under the initial contract last year. The firm’s tasks are to “engage U.S. media promoting Qatar Foundation’s mission and leadership; facilitate interviews for Qatar Foundation and individuals associated with it; provide internal preparation support; [and] provide media with supporting background materials.”

Saudi Arabia: A public relations firm for Saudi Arabia emailed a Michigan official with the subject line “Lansing Sister City,” according to a new lobbying filing. Keith Lambert, the vice president of business attraction at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, said the idea was initiated by Iowa-based PR firm Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group), which the Saudi embassy hired in November 2019 for $126,500 per month as it increases its outreach to the US heartland.

“There are no current plans for a new sister city relationship between the City of Lansing and any city in Saudi Arabia,” Lambert told Foreign Lobby Report in an email. “The Lansing Regional Sister Cities Commission does not have a strategy or partnership plans in the Middle East region of the world at this time, though such a strategy may be developed in the coming years.”

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United Arab Emirates: Terakeet digital content manager Ryan Day is no longer working for the UAE embassy in Washington as of May 17. The embassy paid Syracuse-based Terakeet just over $1 million in the six months through March for search optimization services. 


Lobbying law

Morrison Foerster, now home to the former chief of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) unit, Brandon Van Grack, has a couple of new pieces out on new foreign influence disclosure developments and what they mean. In a May 26 client alert, the firm notes that new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules now require on-air programming sponsored or furnished by a foreign government to contain a disclosure statement noting the foreign government sponsorship and identifying the foreign country involved.

According to the firm: “The FCC’s new rules are likely the result of congressional pressure on the FCC to act in this area and they reflect the U.S. government’s increasing scrutiny of foreign government efforts to influence the American public. Similarly, the Department of Justice has sought to more aggressively enforce FARA’s registration and disclosure requirements for foreign media companies and U.S. companies that broadcast or disseminate information in the United States on behalf of foreign governments.”

The firm also weighed in on new advisory opinions from the FARA unit’s new chief, Jennifer Gellie, that requires registration for a broad range of commercial activity including foreign investment attraction.

“These recent advisory opinions show that the breadth of FARA’s statutory and regulatory terms give the Unit wide latitude to cover activities that businesses may view as being purely commercial in nature, unconnected to a foreign government, or lacking a sufficient nexus to the United States,” the firm wrote. “The opinions reflect that the Unit is unafraid to interpret the statute broadly in order to effect disclosures regarding activities that are undertaken on behalf of foreign principals in the United States.”

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