Latest filings

Former Menendez chief of staff lobbies for Bangladesh; China’s Alibaba hires PR help after Beijing crackdown; Salvadoran magnate lobbies to remove corruption sanctions

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

Americas

Barbados: The Caribbean Tourism Organization – USA Inc. in Houston, Texas has registered Secretary General & CEO Neil Walters as a foreign agent. Based in Barbados, the CTO serves as the tourism development agency for 24 country members. 

Canada: The Quebec Government Office has registered Washington Director Jean-Francois Hould under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

El Salvador: Salvadoran flour magnate Adolfo Salume Artinano has hired the Capitol City Group to lobby for the removal of sanctions. Artinano, also known as Fito Salume, was one of more than 50 individuals named in a list of “corrupt and undemocratic actors” in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras by the State Department last month. The report was required under the Northern Triangle Enhanced  Engagement Act, which was introduced in 2019 by former Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) when he was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The US views corruption in Central America as a root cause of migration to the US.

Artinano is accused of having “engaged in significant corruption and undermined democratic processes and institutions by bribing a Supreme Court Magistrate to avoid paying a fine.” Firm founder and president Gerald Harrington is the only lobbyist registered on the account.

Asia

Afghanistan: Squire Patton Boggs sent a single email to Capitol Hill as part of its short-lived engagement on behalf of the government of Afghanistan, according to the firm’s lobbying disclosure for the first half of the year. The firm was retained from June 21 to June 30 to help arrange meetings for President Ashraf Ghani during his visit to Washington at the end of June.

The firm emailed the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on June 21 but did not disclose any other activity. It also did not disclose any payments from Afghanistan. Ghani met with Pelosi on June 25 ahead of his meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House.

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Bangladesh: The former chief of staff to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is lobbying for Bangladesh as the country pursues better relations with Congress and the Joe Biden administration, notably on the trade front. Michael Hutton of Conewago Consulting (d/b/a Hutton Strategies) was hired effective July 26 for one month by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute on behalf of the Bangladeshi government to arrange meetings on Capitol Hill. The $35,000 contract can be extended past its Aug. 26 end date by written consent of both parties.

The Bangladesh Enterprise Institute is a private free market organization based in Dhaka whose chairman, Salman Rahman, currently serves as a cabinet minister and private sector industry and investment adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Hutton’s registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) identifies the prime minister’s office as the lobbying beneficiary.

The engagement comes as Bangladesh has long sought to reinstate trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The Barack Obama administration suspended Bangladesh’s eligibility in 2013 amid worker safety concerns exemplified by the November 2012 Tazreen Fashions factory fire and the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse. The country has expressed hope for improved ties under Biden.

“The new US administration appears to be more supportive to the causes of the developing world, including in areas like climate change, trade facilitation, Covid-19 response and migrants,” Foreign Minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen wrote in a Feb. 10 op-ed in Bangladesh’s Daily Star. “Thus, our expectations from the Biden administration are indeed reasonably higher.”

BGR Government Affairs also lobbies for the government of Bangladesh. Its contract with embassy in Washington is for $25,000 per month.

Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice has extended its contract with RJI Capital Corporation through November 2021. The firm is to be paid $3 million for lobbying services, the same flat fee agreed to since it began its engagement with the Central Asian country in 2019. RJI’s main task is to “identify and engage top lobbyists, strategists, lawyers and government affairs specialists to ensure effective representation before the United States House of Representatives and Senate, including key Leadership and relevant Committees as well as Executive Branch Departments, including but not
limited to, the U.S. Department of State, and before arbitrations and courts.”

Kazakhstan also retains the services of BGR Government AffairsGreenberg TraurigMercury Public AffairsAPCO WorldwideLatham & Watkins and Herbert Smith Freehills. The resource-rich country is keen to promote itself as a safe destination for foreign investment even as it pursues a decade-long, $500 million international legal fight with a disgruntled oil and gas investor.

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Marshall Islands: Hawaii political consultant Kekoa McClellan stopped lobbying for the government of the Marshall Islands as of July 31, 2020, according to a late filing. The Pacific island country hired the McClellan Group in September 2019 to help obtain support for humanitarian aide efforts from Hawaii; assist the Consul General in Hawaii build cultural connections; identify educational and economic opportunities for Marshallese citizens living in Hawaii; and help obtain government resources available under the country’s Compact of Free Association with the United States. Some 7,500 Marshallese live in Hawaii. The firm reported just over $60,000 in payments for the engagement.

South Korea: Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman has registered partner Craig Saperstein on its new contract with a South Korean business group that hopes to restart economic cooperation with North Korea. The firm has signed a 10-month, $675,000 contract with the Corporate Association of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, which represents South Korean companies that used to operate factories across the border in North Korea before the partnership was shut down five years ago. US approval is needed to lift international sanctions on Pyongyang that hamper Gaeseong’s reopening. Saperstein joins former Rep. Greg Laughlin (R-Texas), a senior counsel at the firm, and Pillsbury partner Matthew Oresman on the account.

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Thailand: The Tourism Authority of Thailand in New York has registered director Sand Sawangcharoen as a foreign agent.

Europe

Croatia: Squire Patton Boggs has terminated its decade-long lobbying engagement on behalf of the government of Croatia as of June 30. The firm was hired in 2011 to advise the Ministry of Economy on Croatia’s bilateral relationship with the US government. In the first half of the year, the firm did not report any political activities but was paid $526,000 for assistance in two international arbitration matters regarding investment disputes with Hungarian energy group MOL and with Marko Mihaljevic. The termination leaves the Balkan nation without any lobbying firms.

Norway: The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) terminated its registration as a foreign agent of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation on April 30. The US Department of Justice required the US nonprofit to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) last year in because it received grant funding from the Norwegian government agency, a legal interpretation that infuriated development organizations. NWF was the recipient of a five-year, almost $6 million grant from Norway to combat deforestation in Indonesia and South America.

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia: Summit Information Services of Colorado disclosed a May 13 meeting with Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard in addition to business and media figures as part of its advocacy for Saudi Arabia during the first half of 2021. The firm has been a subcontractor to Iowa-based public relations firm Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group) since December 2019 as part of the Saudi Embassy’s outreach to the US heartland. Firm President David Cunningham and senior account executive Karen Mason are registered on the account. LS2’s contract with Summit is for $7,500 a month.

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Saudi Arabia (NEOM): New York public relations firm Ruder Finn has registered Vice President Sarah Stanley and account supervisor Hannah Frick on its account with the Neom Corporation, the company building the $500 billion futuristic megacity that is the cornerstone of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman‘s Vision 2030 to diversify the country’s economy away from oil. The firm signed a $1.7 million contract with Neom last June to promote its corporate social responsibility efforts after its image was tarnished by allegations that native residents of the area were being relocated without proper compensation and the killing of a protester.

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Business lobbying

Alibaba (China): Boston technology communications company Racepoint Global has belatedly disclosed public relations and video production services for Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba. The firm was hired to “evaluate and coordinate at least six buyer success stories of US buyers” as the company looks to refocus attention on its business accomplishments amid a Chinese government crackdown on technology companies, including Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma. Racepoint was paid $30,000 in June for work conducted between March 22 and the end of May. Employees Allison DeLeo, Bob Osmond and Risha Tyagi were registered on the account.

Two firms, Greenberg Traurig and Mercury Public Affairs, actively lobbied for the company in the second quarter of 2021. Most recently, Alibaba brought on Holland & Knight on May 1.

Hikvision (China): Public relations firm BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) has modified its agreement with the US affiliate of Chinese video surveillance giant Hikvision to include “media relations, media tracking & reporting, and narrative & key message development from July 1 through the end of September. The contract is for a minimum of $50,000 per month.

BCW has advised Hikvision on public affairs and policy issues, strategic planning and guidance, and media relations since 2018 and disclosed $1.78 million in fees and expenses from the company in 2020. The US has accused Hikvision of posing a cybersecurity risk and enabling human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region. Mercury Public Affairs and Sidley Austin also represent Hikvision.

Huawei (China): New York public relations firm Ruder Finn has registered four more people as foreign agents on its account with the US subsidiary of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. The firm signed a $1.45 million contract  with Huawei Technologies USA in Plano, Texas at the end of October 2020 for “strategic counsel, media relations, analyst relations, data insights, content strategy and policy communications.”

Signing up under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) are:

  • Executive Vice President Sonali Munjal;
  • Senior account executive Stella Heekin;
  • Assistant account executive Lexi Foldenauer; and
  • Social media researcher Ryan Mason.

The new registrations come as Huawei has been ramping up its lobbying under the Joe Biden administration. The company’s in-house lobbying arm spent more than $1 million in the second quarter of 2021, the most since 2019, while Huawei Technologies USA hired four new lobbying firms in recent weeks. Among the lobbyists on the account is a former member of Congress, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) of Omaha’s Lee Terry Consulting.

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