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Adding it up: The Top Players in Foreign Agent Lobbying

Oct. 23: This post has been corrected.

It isn’t just U.S. companies or groups that push for their causes on Capitol Hill. Thousands of times each year, lobbyists for foreign governments and other overseas organizations reach out to members of Congress and other U.S. leaders to make their case on issues important to them.

But counting up those thousands of contacts hasn’t been easy. Records detailing what foreign entities are lobbying, who they’re contacting and why are filed on paper forms, sometimes in handwriting that’s little more than a scrawl. After prodding from open-government groups, the Department of Justice put scanned copies of the forms on its Web site in 2007, but in a fashion that’s barely an advance over the old-fashioned card catalog.

Now, the Sunlight Foundation and ProPublica have taken more than a year’s worth of data filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, and put it in a digital format that can be easily searched and analyzed to discover all the players in the foreign lobbying game.

Under FARA, all lobbyists who represent foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities in a “political or quasi-political capacity” must file disclosures. The forms list activities, fees received, political contacts and any campaign contributions.

Data for this project is based on filings in calendar 2008. The reports cover lobbying activity that year and in late 2007, and provide an extensive look into how foreign countries advanced their interests in Washington, D.C., during the period.

Among the overall findings:

  • Lobbyists for various foreign agents, including a handful of for-profit corporations, disclosed receiving $85 million in fees during the period.
  • Lobbyists contacted congressional offices more than 10,700 times, including 2,280 meetings, nearly 2,600 phone conversations and more than 4,000 e-mails, with the balance of contacts in letters and faxes.
  • Countries that engaged in the most intensive lobbying campaigns include long-term allies like Turkey and recent adversaries like Libya. Wealthy countries like the oil-rich United Arab Emirates are players, but so are poor nations like Ethiopia, with a per capita GDP of just $800.

What follows is a look at the countries and lobbyists that have been most active, what some of them wanted, whom they contacted and how much they spent pursuing their goals.

 

Where the big spenders are

Interests in the United Arab Emirates, primarily Dubai, spent the most money on lobbying and public relations campaigns. (Iraq’s spending also includes the Kurdistan Regional Government.)

Country Amount Spent
United Arab Emirates $10,914,002
United Kingdom $6,105,200
Japan $4,231,656
Iraq $3,708,368
Turkey $3,524,632
Morocco $3,337,392
Saudi Arabia $3,308,285
South Korea $2,941,004
Netherlands $2,694,604
Equatorial Guinea $2,408,168

Spotlight: Dubai

United Arab EmiratesUntil it was branded a threat to national security and a federation with “a dubious record on terrorism,” the United Arab Emirates spent modest amounts on foreign lobbying, while Dubai, one of its semi-autonomous emirates, spent nothing.

Dubai’s troubles began in February 2006, when Dubai Port World, a government-owned marine terminal management company, acquired a company with contracts to perform stevedoring operations around the world, including at a handful of U.S. ports. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., charged that the deal would compromise U.S. port security and labeled the U.A.E. a “country that has been linked to terrorism.” Other members of Congress soon echoed the charges. Dubai Port World and the government of Dubai hired lobbyists and public relations firms to blunt the charges, but it was too late: Dubai Port World sold the U.S. port business to another company.

The emirate had learned its lesson. By March 2007, when another government-owned firm, Dubai Aerospace Enterprises, acquired a pair of aviation companies with operations at U.S. airports, Dubai already had in place a sophisticated lobbying operation that contacted some of the harshest critics of the ports deal to gain their support. Dubai’s government relied on three firms to burnish its image: DLA Piper focused on pushing political interests, the Mark Saylor Company focused on crisis communications and Levick Strategic Communications handled press outreach and public relations campaigns.

According to 2008 FARA filings, the Dubai government paid more than $4.6 million in fees to the three firms. Dubai Aerospace completed its acquisition in July 2007 without protest from Congress.

The country’s public relations campaign continued in 2008. Lobbyists promoted such initiatives as “Dubai Cares,” to help educate children in developing countries. They fielded questions about the ruling family’s alleged abuse of jockeys in camel racing, and about Dubai’s sovereign wealth funds. The firms’ lobbyists met with dozens of congressional staffers. They pitched U.S. media on stories such as economic development, Dubai’s transit system and a “Star Wars” theme park.

Spotlight: Japan

Japan The government of Japan has focused largely on trade through organizations like the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) and the Manufactured Imports and Investment Promotion Organization (MIPRO). The country also employs lobbyists from Hogan & Hartson to lobby on a range of issues from blocking congressional resolutions admonishing the conduct of the Imperial Army in the Second World War to gaining a permanent seat for Japan on the United Nations Security Council.

In 2008, lobbyists for Japan met with at least five members of Congress to lobby on defense appropriations and to influence policy on the foreign sales of a military aircraft, the F-22 Raptor. The Obama administration and Congress ended U.S. funding for the F-22, but the House Armed Services Committee directed the Obama administration to look into supplying the fighter jets to Japan.

Spotlight: Pakistan

Pakistan Pakistan made frequent use of lobbyists when it sought to convince Democratic majorities in Congress to go along with the Bush administration’s plans for “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones,” or preferential trade zones that would be able to export commodities manufactured there duty-free to the United States. Establishing the zones would spur economic development, would decrease unrest in some of Pakistan’s more lawless and underdeveloped regions, particularly on its frontier with Afghanistan, proponents say. The bill to authorize them died in committee in the last Congress, but has been taken up again this year.

Pakistan’s lobbyists also performed damage control over foreign aid — not the first time the country has had to manage the feat. Assistance to Pakistan was halted in 1998 after it conducted at least five nuclear tests, and was not restored until the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, when the Bush administration sought allies in its struggle against al-Qaida. Following a June 2008 Government Accountability Office finding that the Pentagon couldn’t track more than $5.5 billion in military aid, Pakistan’s FARA lobbyists made 104 contacts with seven journalists concerning the GAO report and the “status of U.S. aid.” The Pakistani Embassy paid $514,000 in lobbyist fees.

* Note: Lobbyists for Paul Calder LeRoux, a dual citizen of South Africa and Australia who lives in the Philippines, reported receiving $6,500,000 in fees. The Justice Department classifies LeRoux as "international" rather than assigning him to any individual country; as such, we have omitted him from this chart. LeRoux hired the firm,Dickens & Madson,to "generate policies favorable to [his] business interests," according to FARA filings, principally his effort to lease farmland from the government of Zimbabwe. The firm reported no contacts on LeRoux's behalf; according to FARA records, Dickens & Madson stopped representing LaRoux in December 2008.

 

Most congressional contacts

Turkey’s lobbying drive to block a resolution branding the 1915 slaughter of Armenians as genocide resulted in the most contacts with members of Congress. (See related story.)

Country Contacts
Turkey 2268
United Arab Emirates 1957
Republic of Congo 1538
Canada 1328
Libya 1175
Egypt 1071
South Korea 896
Azerbaijan 855
Pakistan 832
Ethiopia 821

*-Contacts include in person meetings, phone calls, emails, letters and faxes.

Spotlight: Egypt

EgyptEgypt, historically one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, mounted a large lobbying effort, employing PLM Group — a joint venture of two well-connected K Street firms, the Podesta Group, headed by Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, and the Livingston Group, founded by former Republican Rep. Robert Livingston of Louisiana — to preserve that funding between October 2007 and October 2008. The stakes are not small: Egypt has received more than $50 billion from the United States since 1975.

The United States agreed to large foreign aid payments to Egypt and Israel in 1978 following the historic peace agreement negotiated by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. As the Arab nation’s economy has eroded, excess American aid has allowed it to put off much-needed changes rather than spur them, critics say.

Lobbyists for Egypt had at least 279 contacts on military issues, the bulk of which occurred when PLM Group accompanied delegations of Egyptian military officers to meet members of Congress, administration officials and representatives from defense contractors — including BAE Systems, General Dynamics, General Electric, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. All five have done business with the Egyptian government, selling tanks, fighter jets, howitzers and radar arrays to its military. At the time of the meeting with the contractors, Podesta Group counted BAE Systems, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin among its clients, while the Livingston Group represented Raytheon.

Top lobbyists

Two of the top three best-paid lobbying firms were also among the busiest contacting government officials: DLA Piper and the Livingston Group.

Lobbying firm Fees Received
DLA Piper US $ 10,126,273
Dickens & Madson Canada $ 6,905,000
Invest Northern Ireland $ 4,099,664
Livingston Group $ 3,094,182
Cassidy & Associates $ 2,497,000
Fleishman-Hillard $ 2,326,151
Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions $ 2,196,269
Barbour, Griffith & Rogers $ 2,175,497
Moroccan-American Center for Policy $ 2,152,467
Japan National Tourist Organization $ 2,089,846

Spotlight: DLA Piper

DLA Piper, a firm whose Web site says is “positioned to help companies with their legal needs anywhere in the world,” is well suited to helping them in Washington, with a roster of 39 former government officials that includes former House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt. Until his resignation last week, former House GOP leader Richard Armey also worked with the firm. The firm represented some of the most active foreign clients, including Ethiopia, the executive office of Dubai, and the government of Turkey, for whom it promised, among other things, to find “members of Congress who will speak in Turkey’s favor on matters of critical importance to Turkey.” DLA Piper helped Borse Dubai, a United Arab Emirates company that invests in stock exchanges, when a hefty investment by the firm in the Nasdaq market required approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an inter-agency committee that reviews foreign investments in the United States that might affect national security. The firm also lobbied to keep a sizable U.S. military presence in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz and tried to ease sanctions on Ivory Coast.

Members contacted most

Four of the top five members with the most contacts with the foreign lobbyists served on either the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Member Name No. of contacts
Wexler, Robert 173
Blunt, Roy 105
Burton, Dan 100
Berman, Howard L. 95
Shuster, Bill 89
Foxx, Virginia 87
Boehner, John 84
Pelosi, Nancy 82
Ortiz, Solomon P. 78
Whitfield, Ed 76

 

Spotlight: Rep. Robert Wexler

Rep. Robert Wexler (U.S. Congress) Wexler, D-Fla., was the most sought after; he or members of his staff were contacted 173 times, according to the filings. Azerbaijan, which hired the Livingston Group to lobby on its behalf, was among Wexler’s top petitioners. Both Lydia Borland and Robert Livingston of the Livingston Group met with staffers working with Wexler, who serves as co-chairman of the Azerbaijan Caucus. Wexler introduced a bill to repeal earlier legislation that related to the country as a post-Soviet state and led to normal trade relations with Azerbaijan. The strategically important country, which has both Iran and Russia as neighbors, has spent close to $2 million since late 2005 seeking better trade and investment opportunities from the United States, according to FARA records.

Spotlight: Rep. Roy Blunt

Rep. Roy Blunt (U.S. Congress) Blunt, R-Mo., the former Republican House whip, and his staff were contacted at least 105 times by lobbyists of various foreign governments and organizations. Blunt and his taff had several meetings and phone conversations with lobbyists for both Peru and Panama regarding their free trade agreements. A few days before the passage of the U.S. Peru Free Trade Act, lobbyists for the country met with Blunt’s staffers regarding the bill. The trade pact passed with support from Republicans in Congress; 116 Democrats voted against it. The Panamanian Embassy used the Washington Group to intensively lobby Congress in October and November 2008 to pass an agreement. Blunt and his staff were contacted multiple times.

Top campaign contributors

Registered foreign agents reported $4.3 million in political contributions, including nearly $2 million to congressional campaigns. There were at least 74 instances in which lobbyists reported campaign donations to individual members they had contacted.

Lobbyists Contributions
Bob Dole $ 104,000
Robert L. Livingston $ 99,710
John O'Hanlon $ 83,400
Ed Rogers $ 71,550
Gregg Hartley $ 70,960
Paul Cambon $ 63,300
J. Allen Martin $ 57,150
Tony Podesta $ 49,300
Alfonse M. D'Amato $ 46,425
Lanny Griffith $ 43,550

 

Spotlight: Who gave

Of the 74 donations FARA agents made to members they’d personally contacted, 34 came from lobbyists working for a single firm, the PLM Group. PLM was formed in March 2007 as a joint venture of the Livingston Group and the Podesta Group. In all, lobbyists with the PLM Group reported giving nearly $63,000 to members of Congress. Three of the contributions made to Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., came on the same day they met with lobbyists.

Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader and the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, contributed the most among registered foreign agents — $104,000. Dole, who lobbies for Alston & Bird, wasn’t nearly as active as Livingston, FARA records show. Most of his activity, on behalf of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office of Taiwan, was confined to writing letters to members, either inviting them to Taiwan or thanking them for meeting with Taiwanese officials. Dole attended a briefing on investment opportunities in Montenegro, another Alston & Bird client.

Livingston contributed more than $99,000. Other PLM group lobbyists who have given liberally include Paul Cambon, J. Allen Martin, Tony Podesta and former Democratic Rep. Toby Moffett.

Spotlight: Who received

Overall, the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Hillary Clinton topped the list, taking in $202,000 and $71,000 respectively. Among congressional campaigns, successful Senate candidate Mark Warner, D-Va., received the most money from FARA registrants — more than $44,000. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., was next with $38,000, followed by the House Republican leader, John Boehner of Ohio, with $34,000

Correction: Due to a data entry error, the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker contained duplicate entries for fees paid to the Livingston Group by some its clients. The Sunlight Foundation has eliminated the duplicate records, and we have updated related totals in stories and charts about the database.