Denounced by their Latin American neighbors, the Obama administration and world opinion following the removal from power and immediate exile of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, the acting Honduran government turned to Washington lobbyists to launch a media and lobbying campaign on Sept. 19, 2009, to regain legitimacy in the United States.
Two months earlier, President Manuel Zelaya, who was democratically elected, was deported after the country’s Supreme Court endorsed a lower court order finding a referendum Zelaya called for would violate the country’s constitution. The Supreme Court ordered the military to remove Zelaya, and Roberto Micheletti, the next in succession, was installed as the new head of state. When the international community condemned the removal of Zelaya, the Honduran administration hired Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates to represent their interests, leading to an extensive lobbying and media campaign that cost $131,000 in the last months of 2009.
Honduran lobbying efforts found strong support in Congress and a willing backer in Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who put out a press release supporting the coup. He took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to write, “As all strong democracies do after cleansing themselves of usurpers, Honduras has moved on.” FARA records show that about a week before this column was published, Juan Cortiñas-Garcia, a lobbyist with Chlopak, contacted DeMint’s office and the Republican leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) records show that there were over 60 other contacts during the crisis between Sept. 21, 2009 and Nov. 11, 2009; the contract was terminated at the end of December 2009.
The Honduran lobbying effort benefited from congressional connections of the hired lobbyists. The website of Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates notes that Cortiñas-Garcia, “spent six years working in the U.S. Congress as a Press Secretary and Legislative Assistant for Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a senior member of the House International Relations Committee."
During that time, he worked on domestic and international affairs particularly dealing with U.S. policy toward Latin America.” Cortiñas contacted Republican Professional Staff members Robyn Wapner and Yleem Poblete of the House Foreign Affairs Committee three and five time respectively. Cortiñas also contacted Fred Ratliff from the House Foreign Affairs Committee four times. Legistorm records show Wapner, Poblete, and Ratliff are former employees of Ros-Lehtinen and worked there at the same time as Cortinas.
Small Countries Getting Bang for their Buck?
Honduras is one of several small, relatively poor countries hiring lobbyists to influence the U.S. government. FARA records show that across the Atlantic, there are several small African countries, some in the throes of civil war, that spend millions mainly to gain tariff free trade with the US.
The 30,000 square mile country of Lesotho in the southern part of the African continent spent $200,000 to hire Whitaker Group to promote its interests in 2009. The goal was to promote Lesotho’s trade interests by focusing on The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA.) Between January 2007 and December 2009, there were at least 56 meetings recorded in the FARA records on behalf of The Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), most of which were described as related to AGOA.
Uganda also contracts with the Whitaker Group for assistance with AGOA lobbying. Their contract awarded Whitaker $1,035,000 for a year of service, beginning March 2008. And they weren’t alone: other African nations lobbying on AGOA included Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya.
The largest opportunity for AGOA expansion came when Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. introduced H.R.4101 in November of 2009 to expand duty free status to all goods from countries with AGOA eligibility. This bill presented a great opportunity to AGAO members to expand their benefits to items not covered under the original terms. Expanding the scope of AGOA would have been especially beneficial to countries like Uganda that have many exports that are not eligible under AGOA.
McDermott’s staff was contacted 15 times, with several occurring in April and May of 2008. As a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee and a member of the trade subcommittee, his office was contacted about AGOA issues 20 times before he introduced his legislation.
Small Nations Target U.S. Tax Laws
Among bills that were heavily lobbied on in 2009 were legislation in the House and Senate—respectively H.R. 1265 and S.506, the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act—that aimed to crack down on tax havens. The bill that was introduced in March of 2009 listed 34 countries—all of which have hired lobbyists in the past few years to lobby on the issue.
FARA records show that the Bank of the Netherlands Antilles put forward the strongest lobbying efforts to oppose these bills. The bank relied on the lobbying firm Jones and Walker, which has an alliance with the Livingston Group, and spent over $40,000 a month.
Arnold Havens, a Jones and Walker lobbyist, shows up most frequently in regard this act. Haven’s career as a lobbyist comes after years of working on international affairs as General Counsel of the United States Department of the Treasury which oversees the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
The revolving door between lobbying groups and Congress is apparent in other filings. The Livingston group is named after former Congressman Robert Livingston and lists former members of Congress Dennis Hertel, Wayne Allard, Eva Clayton, Bob Clement, Thomas Coleman, and William H. Zeliff Jr. on its payroll.
UAE Lobbies for Access to U.S. Nuclear Technology
In 2009, the United Arab Emirates pushed for nuclear cooperation with the United States and sought to procure nuclear technology; the government of the oil-rich nation hired some of the top lobbying firms to establish a 123 agreement, named after a section of the Atomic Energy Act that sets out the terms for transfers of nuclear technology.
The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates contracted with the international law firm DLA Piper, while the Government of Dubai relied on lobby and law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld. Lobbying efforts included outreach to political notables, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD. Lobbyists for the UAE contacted 17 other offices of Senate Foreign Affairs Committee members and another 34 offices of lawmakers on the House Foreign as part of their efforts.
Shortly after, UAE’s efforts came to fruition when, on May 21, 2009, President Obama submitted to Congress an agreement for peaceful Nuclear Cooperation with the emirates, which the State Department said contained the “strongest nonproliferation conditions” of any U.S. nuclear agreement.
In 2009, the International Counsel Bureau, a law firm based in Kuwait, began lobbying the U.S. Congress for the release of prisoners from Guantanamo. The organization went on a media blitz, placing op-eds and getting media attention at a time when some lawmakers and the President were promising to close down Guantanamo quickly.
After it became clear that President Obama’s pledge to quickly close down Guantanamo would not happen, the International Council Bureau’s shifted its efforts to gaining media attention for the detainees that have been held for eight years without being formally charged with a crime. Between August 6 and Sept. 17, 2009 the law firm sent out 555 press releases to retain the public’s interest in the Guantanamo habeas corpus trials.
The biggest development in the detainee case came when three Kuwaiti detainees received habeas hearings. The first hearing occurred on August of 2009 for Fawzi al-Odah, which he was lost—Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied his request. In July of 2009, the Kuwaiti detainee Khalid al-Mutairi won his habeas request, and, in September 2009, Fouad al-Rabiah also won release. The International Council Bureau continues to lobby on behalf of the release of the two remaining Kuwaiti detainees in Guantanamo Bay.