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What countries spent the most to influence the USA in 2013

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Image of a light-up city grid at night

The lights of Dubai, one of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, seen at night from the space station. The UAE spent the most of any country in 2013 trying to influence policy and public opinion in the USA. (Photo credit: NASA)

Oil-rich United Arab Emirates spent more money than any other nation pushing its agenda and interests in the United States last year.

An analysis of records filed with the Department of Justice by Sunlight's Foreign Influence Explorer puts the UAE, with expenditures of $14 million, at the top of a list of big spenders, including Saudi Arabia, next-door neighbors Canada and Mexico, and longtime allies such as Germany and South Korea.

There are some surprises: The top-20 list includes the Republic of Serbia, while China ranks No. 21 in spending. The figures used for this analysis include spending that foreign entities or their paid representatives reported to the Department of Justice for 2013. They do not include diplomatic contacts by members of a nation's embassy.

Our Foreign Influence Explorer provides a look at other countries' interests in the United States by summarizing not only their lobbying and public relations efforts, but also the arms sales that the Department of Defense has proposed making to some of them — a subject of considerable lobbying by many nations.

The top five countries that spent the most to raise their profiles in the USA last year:

  1. United Arab Emirates, $14.1 million
  2. Germany, $12 million
  3. Canada, $11.2 million
  4. Saudia Arabia, $11.2 million
  5. Mexico, $6.1 million

For a complete list of countries ranked by the spending they reported to the Department of Justice in 2013, click here.

Because of the more stringent disclosure requirements for lobbyists representing foreign interests, the records in Foreign Influence Explorer provide the most detailed picture we can get of how the influence industry works in Washington.

Included is a wealth of information about the nature of foreign organization's activities in the United States. For instance:records show that Canada's outreach includes messaging to Capitol Hill about "the foreign policy implications of reducing America's independence on oil from Venezuela or Saudi Arabia" -- a clear reference to the effort to win approval for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This type of information is available on the "contacts" page linked from each individual country's page on Foreign Influence Explorer.

UAE, which hired the mega-influential lobbying combine Akin, Gump as well as the Camstoll Group, listed "illicit finance issues" and a pre-clearance customs facility among its lobbying goals.

FARA records also reveal how factions within nations compete to influence U.S. policy in their favor. For instance Cyprus reported spending $900,000 in foreign agent registration expenses last year, while the rebel Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus -- a state recognized only by neighboring Turkey -- spent more than $1 million.

This represents just a small sample of the kind of analysis made possible by our just-launched Foreign Influence Explorer. We'll be hosting a webinar on Tuesday to provide more details on how to use this powerful new tool. Register here.