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Libya and Algeria rocked by recent protests, have history of US lobbying

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As the dissent against dictatorial rulers spreads in the Middle East, two countries – Libya and Algeria – experiencing unrest have spent millions lobbying the U.S. government in the past few years on various issues including improving trade relations with the United States and cleaning up tarnished images of their country.

The government of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who has been in control after he took over in 1969, hired DC lobby shops Blank Rome, The Livingston Group and White and Case for over $2 million to lobby on their behalf in 2008 and 2009, Foreign Agent Registrant Act (FARA) records show.

In May through July of 2009, the Libyan government’s lobbyists contacted Representatives David Scott, D-Ga., Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. and former Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., who were all on the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time. Lobbyists also directly contacted the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the U.S. Department of State. FARA records show that these meetings were regarding the “status of U.S. Libyan relations."

In 2008, the lobbyists held several meetings with members of Congress and their staff concerning the legislative status of amending a statutory provision against U.S. trade with Libya,” in an effort to boost foreign investment in the country. Around the same time as the meetings the Senate lifted the sanctions on the nation imposed after U.S declared Libya a terrorist state in the 1980s.

In 2010 Libya retained the lobbyists, but do not show recent contacts.

Libya, which was elected as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, is now trying to quell the demonstrations by using military force killing at least 24 people, according to news reports. The country also negotiated and won the release of the Lockerbie bomber in August 2009.

Another Libyan group, a nonprofit headed by Gaddafi’s son Saif Al Islam Al Gaddafi, also registered to lobby and hired the Livingston Group. The Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation’s representatives in Washington held four meetings with 68 people from different think tanks and independent organizations. These meetings were recorded as, “luncheon-briefing, Human Rights and Democracy Initiatives in Libya,” in FARA records.

Lisa Berg and Roy Neel, both former employees of Vice President Al Gore, were speakers at an event organized by the Foundation, records show. Correction: Lobbyists for Gaddafi Foundation sent invitations to various groups including the National Center for Public Policy Research, the Phelps Stokes Fund and the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa, not all of whom attended. The National Center for Public Policy Research contacted Sunlight after this report was published to say that they did not participate in the event.

Algeria, another country seeing some unrest -- it borders Tunisia, which spearheaded the political unrest in the region -- spent about $600,000 lobbying in 2008 and 2009. FARA filings show that the country lobbied the U.S. on a border dispute with Morocco.

FARA records show 103 lobbying contacts concerning two issues, “the right to self-determination for the indigenous people of the Western Sahara” or “the promotion of Algeria - U.S.relations and respect for human rights, including the right to self-determination.”

Currently, Western Sahara, the disputed territory strategically important to both countries, is controlled by Morocco with some eastern areas under the Polisario Front backed by Algeria.

Algeria hired lobbying firm Foley and Hoag between 2008 and 2010 and contacts include the offices of Rep. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Russ Feingold, D-Wis, Donald Payne, D-N.J., and Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

The Government of Morocco also lobbies on the issue emphasizing the instability of the region. One of their main lobbyists is the Moroccan American Center for Policy which received $260,000 in 2009 for their services promoting U.S. Moroccan relations and championing Morocco’s control of Western Sahara. They have amassed 744 lobbying contacts in three years and have contacted many lawmakers' offices including Sens. Max Baucus,D-Mont., John McCain, R-Ariz., John Boozman, R-Ark., Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif.