Lobbying For Foreign Agents

Last week the House and Senate voted to over-ride President Obama’s veto, allowing families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to sue the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The votes were particularly dramatic as Saudi Arabia invested millions of dollars in lobbying efforts to fight against the vote. Many of those enlisted to help Saudi Arabia include former Members of Congress such Sen. Norm Coleman,  Rep. Michael Castle, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and Sen. John Breaux. However, former Members representing foreign governments is nothing new. According to Politico, “Of the 1,009 members of Congress who have left Capitol Hill since 1990, 114 of them — just over 11 percent — lobbied for or otherwise represented a foreign government, foreign-owned company or think tank.”

As recently as Oct. 4th Saudi Arabia has continued its lobbying push. O’Dwyer’s reports that “On the heels of signing several high-profile contracts with Glover Park Group and Squire Patton Boggs in September, Saudi Arabia has continued its lobbying push on Capitol Hill, hiring law firm King & Spalding as well as public affairs powerhouse Podesta Group.”

Foreign actors are increasingly investing in Washington lobbying. According a Politico review of FARA spending records,  “Middle Eastern monarchies and former Soviet bloc nations, including Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Hungary, are becoming some of the top spenders on Washington lobbying — and they’re often hiring former members. Saudi Arabia, for instance, reported $1 million in spending in 2000; last year, it reported more than $13 million, part of a ramp-up in lobbying that’s made the kingdom one of many up-and-comers in the Washington foreign influence game.”

The uptick in spending by foreign agents comes at a difficult time for the FARA regulations. In September, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice released an in-depth audit report on the “enforcement and administration” of the office managing lobbying registrations for foreign entities. Sunlight Foundation analysis of the report found that “half of all registrants filed late and 62 percent of initial registrations were “untimely,” suggesting those happened after the 10-day window allowed by federal law. What is even more notable is that the inspector general’s office found that 15 percent of registrants had stopped filing altogether or were delinquent for more than six months.”

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