Lobbying for foreign interests: where are the patriots?

 

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All for a few coins.

Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor, had a lucrative $530,000 lobbying contract with Inovo BV, a Netherlands-based consulting firm owned by a Turkish national.

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates have pleaded not guilty to federal charges, including failing to register for lobbying they did for Viktor Yanukovych, the thoroughly corrupt former president of Ukraine, and his pro-Russian political party. A popular uprising ousted Yanukovych in 2014.

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Anti-government protesters clash with the police at the central Kiev square in the Ukraine

Thousands of Syrians were dead and Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were hosting Syrian refugees as Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, pursued a war to new heights of brutality.

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Syrian refugees.

But the war and refugees weren’t U.S. lobbying firm Brown Lloyd James’ concern. For a fee of $5,000 a month, the firm promoted a positive image for Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma. The firm’s efforts paid off when American Vogue magazine published “A Rose in the Desert”, a fawning article about Asma, her British roots, designer fashions and good works.

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“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert, Vogue.

The Vogue story praised the Assads as a “wildly democratic” family-focused couple who vacationed in Europe, fostered Christianity, were at ease with American celebrities, made theirs the “safest country in the Middle East,” and wanted to give Syria a “brand essence.”

American lobbying firms and so-called think tanks have shown time and time again that they have no compunction about fronting for vile foreign donors or representing foreign countries trying to minimize criticism of their human rights abuses or advance positions potentially inimical to American interests.

 

At least 77 U.S. firms have represented 170 governmental or pseudo-governmental entities of the Soviet Union/Russia trying to influence U.S. policy since 1950, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Early this year, the Egyptian government hired Washington, D.C.-based firm Weber Shandwick and then-subsidiary Cassidy & Associates to enhance public perception of Egypt and its intelligence agency.

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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi

Since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took office as president, the internal intelligence agency, Amn al-Watany, has lived up to its reputation for harassing veteran activists, worker organizations, professional unions and what remains of the student activist movement, according to World Politics Review, which analyzes critical global trends. Prominent dissidents—including iconic figures from the 2011 uprisings, such as the leaders of the April 6 Youth Movement—continue to be held in prisons or are subject to surveillance and control by the state security forces.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) governs registration of agents for foreign interests. In its 2017 FARA filings, BLJ Worldwide said it represents the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) a non-profit based in Hong Kong that describes itself as engaging in promoting relations and facilitating exchanges between China and the United States.

According to the filing, BLJ was very busy promoting China’s interests in the first half of 2017. The firm supported trips to China by reporters from all these U.S. media outlets: Slate; Quartz NFR; The Daily Beast; NBC News; Bloomberg; Businessweek; The New Yorker; The Des Moines Register; the Grand Rapids Free Press; the Chicago Tribune; and Independent Journal Review.

BLJ also hosted a dinner for representatives from CNN, Financial Times, the Economist, Associated Press, Bloomberg and CNBC.

AL-Monitor, which analyzes the trends shaping the future of the Middle East, won the 2017 Online Journalism Award for Explanatory Reporting for a series on how the Gulf States have been throwing money left and right in an effort to undercut Qatar in the eyes of President Donald Trump and undo Obama’s fledgling reconciliation with Iran.

According to Maplight, a non-profit which works to reveal the influence of money in politics, lobbyists for foreign interests gave more than $4.5 million to federal lawmakers and candidates during the 2016 election. Foreign lobbyists and their firms’ political action committees were also responsible for packaging a total of $5.9 million in donations for candidates and party committees, through an influence-enhancing tactic known as “bundling.”

Because the donations come from foreign governments’ U.S.-based lobbyists, they effectively circumvent American laws designed to bar direct foreign donations, Maplight reported. Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to any federal, state, or local campaigns, or political parties. But foreign governments frequently hire U.S. citizens to represent their interests, and those people face no such contribution ban.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, thinks he has a way to address all this. He wants to strengthen FARA. To that end, he has introduced legislation that would substantially increase FARA disclosure requirements.

But in my view the issue isn’t just disclosure. It’s also the willingness of American businesses to put the interests of foreign powers over those of the United States.

As citizens of the United States we should respect others and try to understand different viewpoints, but that doesn’t mean American lobbyists should take foreign money to advance the influence of foreign thugs and undermine U.S. interests.

Have they no shame?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Manafort Indictment: one charge is bogus

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The Department of Justice unveiled indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort today (Oct. 30).

The indictment contains 12 counts. conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

One charge in particular intrigued me, that Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal under the the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), enacted in 1938 to counter Nazi propagandists and amended in 1966 to regulate political and economic lobbyists.

The fact is FARA is a paper tiger, frequently ignored and rarely enforced.

FARA requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about  2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.

The Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.

The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”

The fact is, Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.

Another fact is that the registration process under FARA  is often altogether ignored or treated as an afterthought, with many registrants filing retroactive registrations, or only supplying partial submissions.

An internal DoJ audit of the NSD’s enforcement and administration of FARA, conducted in 2016, found that only 23 percent of filings from 2013 to 2015 were filed on time—62 percent were submitted late.[6] Likewise, only 44 percent submitted their supplemental statements in a timely fashion, and 10 percent did not submit any follow-up supplemental materials.

“The Congress didn’t necessarily want to have a strong enforcement mechanism, ” said Kenneth Doyle, the Senior Editor for Bloomberg’s Money & Politics Report. ” There are principal reasons in terms of the First Amendment and not wanting to be too tough on people’s ability to petition the government, and then there are practical reasons of not wanting to be too tough on lobbyists who are important to the way that Washington works. I think they did it deliberately, saying, ‘Well, we’ll have a disclosure system, but it’s not going to have a strong enforcement mechanism and we’ll see what happens.”