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African electoral lobbying dominates $3 million in new contracts for September

Government officials and candidates from a trio of African nations gearing up for elections dominated the more than $3 million in new lobbying contracts disclosed in September, according to a Foreign Lobby Report review of Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) filings with the Department of Justice.

Eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar briefly led the ranking after signing a $960,000 contract with a quartet of firms led by former Bill Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis‘ law firm Lanny J. Davis & Associates and former Rep. Robert Livingston (R-La.) and his Livingston Group. The firms were meant to represent Haftar for six months and help organize a three-day Washington visit.

But the contract fell apart after less than a month amid allegations of human rights abuses against Haftar’s forces, which are also accused of working with Russian mercenaries against the UN-backed government in Tripoli. The four firms were paid $40,000 each and did not get around to conducting any lobbying, according to their FARA filings.

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Meanwhile another would-be Libyan candidate, former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, signed a six-month, $50,000-per-month with the BGR Group. The contract comes after former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), now with Brownstein Hyatt, briefly registered on Bashagha’s behalf back in June for the same amount before quickly parting ways under mysterious circumstances.

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In western Africa, the government of Liberia has hired a trio of lobbying and public relations firms for $1.5 million over three years to elevate the country’s profile ahead of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the freed American slaves who would eventually found the first black African republic. These include CNN analyst Bakari Sellers‘ South Carolina firm Strom Public Affairs, which is to be paid $120,000 per year to produce a “US media and press engagement strategy for the Republic, President Weah, and key officials to raise Liberia’s profile in U.S. media and bring positive attention to the Republic with American and African American audiences.”

The government of President George Weah is also eager to improve its international image ahead of presidential elections in 2023. The opposition has launched its own US lobbying campaign accusing the Weah government of corruption and urging Congress and the Joe Biden administration to press for the establishment of a long-delayed War Crimes and Economic Crimes Court to hold accountable those responsible for the civil wars of 1989-2003.

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And Democratic Republic of the Congo millionaire politician Moise Katumbi has added Republican lobbying firm the DCI Group to his growing roster of Washington influence firms as he eyes a 2023 presidential run. Katumbi’s lobbyists are drawing attention to proposed legislation that would bar him from running because his father was not native Congolese.

In other Africa news, Mercury Public Affairs has registered to lobby for the government of Ethiopia (via Mercury International UK) amid increasing US pressure on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s government over the conflict in northern Ethiopia. The Lesotho Textile Exporters Association has signed up with trade lawyer Paul Ryberg‘s firm Ryberg and Smith amid growing concerns across the continent over the Biden administration’s plans for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). And the African Development Bank (AfDB) has hired Mercury to help prepare for its upcoming Africa Investment Forum Market Days in early December, which aim to catalyze investor interest in the continent in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In other regions, the Washington office of Australian lobbying firm C|T Group is lobbying for Lebanese-Saudi billionaire Bahaa Hariri as he eyes a greater role in the public life of the beleaguered country. Hariri is the son and older brother of former prime ministers Rafik Hariri and Saad Hariri, respectively.

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Source: US Department of Justice / Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

Separately, public relations firms disclosed some $3.5 million dollars worth of new contracts in September.

Saudi Arabia’s $400 billion sovereign wealth fund dominated the list with a pair of contracts worth a combined $2.7 million with New York CEO advisory fund Teneo Strategy as it looks to inspire investor confidence amid lingering criticism of the country’s policies.

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And the Jordanian monarchy hired law firm DLA Piper to help deal with the reputational blowback over the Pandora Papers’ revelations about extravagant real estate spending by King Abdullah II. Mary Gately (bio), a DLA partner and co-head of the firm’s Washington litigation group, is registered to provide “legal advice related to potential defamation and other legal remedies associated with inquiries and/or articles concerning His Majesty King Abdullah II” for $1,335 an hour.

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Source: US Department of Justice / Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

Finally, lobbying and PR firms disclosed more than $11 million worth of contract renewals and extensions last month.

Three influence efforts accounted for the lion’s share here:

  • Russian state-run news agency Rossiya Segodnya‘s $6.7 million contract renewal with Washington, DC production company Ghebi to create radio and web content for its Sputnik multimedia platform, up from $5.2 million last year. Ghebi was incorporated in September 2019 by Mindia Gavasheli, the editor-in-chief of RIA Global, another US production company working for Sputnik. The only registered agent on the account is Christopher Pyburn, the managing director for RIA Global;
  • The UAE Embassy’s three-year podcast production contract renewal with David Rothkopf‘s TRG Advisory Services. The former editor of Foreign Policy magazine is expected to handle the “production, distribution and promotion of podcasts with a particular focus on programs associated with science, technology, cultural diplomacy, education, tolerance, values, women’s empowerment, and related areas;” and
  • The Turkish defense industry’s year-long, $1.5 million contract renewal with Arnold & Porter to try to get Turkey readmitted into the F-35 fighter jet production program it was kicked out of because of its purchase of Russian missile defense systems.
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Source: US Department of Justice / Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

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