- New lobby campaign targets Ethiopia trade benefits
- Benin opposition launches lobbying challenge to newly re-elected President Talon
- Ex-congressman lobbies to restart economic cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang
- Haiti businessman launches diaspora fundraising for presidential run
- Hong Kong solar company lobbies on cybersecurity, import restrictions
- El Salvador’s Bukele extends investment lobbying
- South Sudan lobbying collapses amid lack of progress on political settlement
- Saudi lobby targets Wisconsin politicians
- Huawei steps up its lobbying for Biden era
Welcome to Foreign Lobby Report’s biweekly roundup of all the latest lobbying developments. Every week we go through dozens of filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) to offer our readers the most comprehensive snapshot anywhere of the foreign governments, political groups and businesses trying to influence US policymaking and public opinion.
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New lobbying filings
Benin : Former Benin foreign minister turned opposition figure Rogatien Biaou has rekindled his international campaign challenging newly re-elected President Patrice Talon‘s democratic credentials. The businessman known as the “King of Cotton” won a second term in April after top challengers were banned from running. Biaou, the head of the Alliance Patriotique Nouvel Espoir (New Hope Patriotic Alliance), has hired Washington lobbying firm Sanitas International to “conduct outreach to congressional offices, think tanks, and other third parties” and develop a website to publish pieces on “the future of democracy in Benin,” according to a new lobbying registration. The contract is for $71,000 over four months. The firm received a first payment of $26,000 on July 7, which notably covers the $1,000 cost of translating a letter from US President Joe Biden.
“Over the course of the rest of the year, we will help Mr. Biaou develop into a number of different roles, depending on audience,” the firm wrote in its engagement letter. “To President Talon, he will become the antagonist: a constant thorn in the side of an antidemocratic leader. To Beninese people everywhere, he will become leader: the person who understands their wants, needs, and desires and fights for them. To the international community, Mr. Biaou will represent the senior statesman: a steady, experienced hand and necessary ally for democracy in Benin.”
Sanitas previously provided public relations services to Biaou between March 1 and May 31. Sanitas founding partner Christopher Harvin and managing director Bruce Fryer are registered on the account. This is Sanitas’ only current foreign lobbying registration after a string of recent terminations (see below).
Ethiopia: A Washington lobbyist who previously represented Tigrayan-American activists is asking the US government to suspend trade preferences for Ethiopia in a bid to end the fighting in the northern region. Karl Von Batten has registered his firm Von Batten-Montague-York under the domestic Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) for work conducted on its own behalf. The registration was effective June 21. Von Batten previously represented the Tigray Center for Information and Communication, a recently formed advocacy group in Alexandria, Virginia, from March 10 to May 26. The firm reported $40,000 in payments from the group and notably lobbied for passage of the Senate resolution calling for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia.
Von Batten’s firm is now lobbying the US government to suspend Ethiopia’s participation in “key US preferred trade agreements,” particularly the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The law, enacted in 2000, gives eligible countries preferential trade access to the American market and is a key element of US policy toward sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the new lobbying registration, the goal of the new lobbying push is to “compel the Ethiopian government to”:
- “Remove all Ethiopian-allied forces and militia from the Tigray region of Ethiopia”;
- “Allow for unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in Tigray”;
- “Stop the human rights violations and atrocities committed by Ethiopian and Ethiopian-allies forces and militia against civilians in Tigray”; and
- “Allow for an independent investigation into the reported human rights violations and atrocities committed against civilians in Tigray.”
The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) singled out Ethiopia’s success under the program in its biennial report to Congress last year. “As one example of what an individual country can do to leverage its AGOA benefits over a five-year time horizon,” then-US trade representative Robert Lighthizer wrote, “Ethiopia’s annual apparel exports under AGOA increased dramatically from $20.3 million in 2015 to $209.6 million in 2019.” Other African nations have previously been suspended from the AGOA program for perceived democratic backsliding and human rights violations, including Burundi in 2016 and Cameroon and Mauritania in 2019.
Von Batten’s registration comes amid intensifying lobbying by Ethiopian interests, with rival diaspora groups weighing on the conflict while the government in Addis Ababa has hired its own influence firm.
South Sudan: Washington lobbying firm Sanitas International has terminated its representation of the government of South Sudan effective Oct. 19, 2020, according to a new lobbying filing. The firm was hired as a subcontractor to Gainful Solutions in July 2019 for $62,500 to help promote South Sudan’s progress toward ending the political infighting that has raged since 2013 and attract foreign direct investment. The firm however never engaged in any political activities or media outreach as a 2018 power sharing agreement between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar has remained largely unimplemented. The firm reported receiving $150,000 in August 2019 but nothing since then.
Sanitas “would only make outreach to media and other stakeholders if the government addressed its obligations as
outlined in the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS),” Sanitas wrote in its filing. “The Government of South Sudan did not address any of its obligations during this reporting period and consequently, Registrant [Sanitas] did not engage in any reportable activities.”
Gainful Solutions for its part remains registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The firm co-founded by former US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger signed a two-year, $3.7 million contract with President Kiir’s office in May 2019 to lobby the Donald Trump administration on a slew of issues including sanctions, military cooperation and US investment in the country’s oil sector. The firm was paid $1.2 million upfront, according to a lobbying filing, but has not disclosed any lobbying or payments on behalf of South Sudan since August 2019.
Meanwhile the country’s Petroleum Ministry hired a French-run New York lobbying firm to improve the country’s image and lift US sanctions last fall. Ministry Undersecretary Awow Daniel Chuang struck a deal with AZ Media PR for $280,500. The open-ended contract was effective Sept. 1.
El Salvador: Washington advisory firm Invest El Salvador has a new formal written contract with the government of El Salvador to “inform the U.S. public, government officials, and the media about the importance of fostering strong dialogue between the U.S. and El Salvador, and promoting direct foreign investment into El Salvador.” The contract is for $65,000 per month for the six months from July 1 through the end of the year, for a total of $390,000. The firm initially registered to lobby for El Salvador last November. Registered to lobby on the contract are firm president and chairman David Metzner, executive director Brian Dean and director/treasurer Damian Matias Merlo. Merlo separately lobbies for the government of Haiti via the Latin America Advisory Group.
The firm is one of four working for the government of President Nayib Bukele as the young populist leader seeks to reassure the US government and investors about his policies and governing style. The country recently hired law firm Arnold & Porter for $1.2 million as the country looks to negotiate a $1.3 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Also representing the Bukele government are Democratic startegic communications firm Rational PR and Invest El Salvador subcontractor Foreign Advisory Services.
Haiti: Former Colorado Rep. Joe Miklosi (D-Denver) has belatedly registered a May 7 contract with Haitian presidential candidate Reginald Boulos. Miklosi’s Bridge Consulting firm is tasked with creating a public affairs and federal lobbying plan, including outreach to the US lawmakers representing the 12 largest Haitian communities in the United States, to showcase Boulos and his center-left MTY Ayiti party as a solution to the political chaos gripping the country. The firm also aims to raise at least $3.5 million in campaign donations from America’s 1.6 million-strong Haitian diaspora. Miklosi is partnering with Novitas Communications, a PR firm founded by Republican activist Michelle Lyng, in the effort.
The two firms are to be paid $10,000 per month for the seven and a half months from May 7 through Nov. 30, plus 2 percent of gross fundraising revenue generated from the Haitian American diaspora. Each firm is also entitled to a $50,000 bonus if Boulos wins this fall’s election. A former doctor turned businessman and opposition figure, Boulos has also retained the services of Art Estopinan, a chief of staff to former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), for his presidential run.
Nicaragua: Sanitas International has terminated its representation of Chicago nonprofit Nicaraguans for Security & Prosperity as of March 31, according to a new lobbying filing. The firm registered in October 2019 to create “a Free & Fair media and outreach campaign that highlights the need for free and fair elections in Nicaragua” on behalf of the group founded by businessman Rafael Estrada, which helps resettle Nicaraguans fleeing President Daniel Ortega‘s leftist government. Sanitas did not disclose any lobbying activity or payments during the time of its engagement.
South Korea: A South Korean business group that hopes to restart economic cooperation with North Korea has launched a Washington lobbying campaign spearheaded by a former Texas congressman.
New York-based global law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman has registered to lobby on behalf of South Korean companies that used to operate factories across the border in North Korea before the partnership was shut down five years ago. The engagement is for $675,000 and runs for 10 months, from July 15 until May 14, 2022.
Former Rep. Greg Laughlin (bio), a senior counsel at the firm, is registered as a foreign agent on the account along with Pillsbury Partner Matthew Oresman, who heads the firm’s International Public Policy practice. A Democrat who switched to the Republican party in his last term, Laughlin served in the US House of Representatives from 1989 to 1997.
For more on this issue, read:
Taiwan: Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington has renewed its lobbying contract with former Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) of Jackson, Miss. law firm Watkins & Eager for another six months from July 16 through Jan. 15, 2022. The contract is for $20,000 per month, up from $18,000. Watkins & Eager has represented the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) since January 2020.
Taiwan: Far East Trade Services, Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. has registered director ChangChing Tsou as a foreign agent for the Taiwan External Trade Development Council. The nonprofit trade promotion organization has been registered to promote US-Taiwan trade since 1978.
Switzerland: Switzerland Tourism in New York has registered Americas director Claudio Zemp under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Libya: Sanitas International has terminated its representation of the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies (LIAS) as of Oct. 30, 2020, according to a new lobbying filing. The private institution in Benghazi is chaired by Aref Ali Nayed, a former Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates close to eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar who is eyeing a presidential run as head of the anti-Islamist Ihya Libya (Reviving Libya) movement. Sanitas signed up to represent Nayed and LIAS in September 2019 to “support strategic communications, public affairs and outreach to key stakeholders in the United States, UK and Europe” but Nayed never signed a formal engagement.
Saudi Arabia: Republican lobbying firm Off Hill Strategies held phone calls with staffers for Republican senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in the six months through May on behalf of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, according to a new lobbying filing. The firm also disclosed a Feb. 11 in-person meeting with Rubio Chief of Staff Mike Needham. The embassy signed a $25,000-per-month contract in November with the firm headed by the husband-and-wife team of former Republican Senate staffers Frederick “Tripp” Baird and Jennifer Baird.
Saudi Arabia: Wisconsin Republican political consultant Mark Graul and his Green Bay-based Arena Strategy Group held phone calls and meetings with several state political leaders in the first half of the year on behalf of Saudi Arabia, according to a new lobbying filing. These include state Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere); state Reps. John Macco (R-Ledgeview), Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) and David Steffen (R-Green Bay); Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Andrew Hitt; Wisconsin Public Service Commission commissioner Ellen Nowak; and the chiefs of staff for US Reps. Bryan Steil and Mike Gallagher, both Republicans.
Graul has been registered as a subcontractor to Iowa-based Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group) on behalf of the Saudi Embassy in Washington since December 2020. Graul served as Wisconsin state director for President George W. Bush‘s 2004 re-election campaign. His firm is supposed to be paid $7,500 per month but only disclosed one $5,000 payment in the first half of the year.
New business lobbying
Sungrow Power (Hong Kong): The US affiliate of Hong Kong-based solar inverter leader Sungrow Power Co. has hired FBB Federal Relations to help “promote renewable energy deployment and advise on related cybersecurity standards and import restrictions” as the US ramps up scrutiny of the Chinese solar industry. Firm principal Peter Friedmann and partner Ray Bucheger are registered to lobby for San Francisco-based Sungrow Americas. The firm’s lobbying registration was effective July 1.
In case you missed it
Huawei (China): Former Democratic super lobbyist Tony Podesta has signed up as consultant for Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to help improve relations with the Joe Biden administration, Politico reports. The engagement marks Podesta’s return from the political wilderness after he shut down his firm the Podesta Group in 2017 amid scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller of its work on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
The engagement comes as Huawei has been drastically stepping up its lobbying in recent weeks, hiring four additional firms and snagging its first former member of Congress, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) of Lee Terry Consulting. Meanwhile the company’s in-house lobbying arm spent $1.06 million in the second quarter of 2021, up from $470,000 for all of 2020 and the most since the last quarter of 2019.