As the cache of internal State Department cables released by Julian Assange and Wikileaks.org amply demonstrates, U.S. government officials offer frank opinions about the leaders, policies and political developments in other countries. Another treasure trove of documents, disclosure of which is required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, shows how foreign governments use Washington lobbyists to challenge those judgments and plead their case in Washington. The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, thanks to a grant from ProPublica.org, has digitized and made searchable data from FARA filings. To see all the data, click here.
Disclosures filed in 2009 show that foreign governments, political parties and government controlled entities, including some for-profit corporations, spent $60 million influencing official Washington. They made thousands of contacts–everything from emails and phone calls to in-person meetings–with government officials, policy wonks at think tanks, syndicated columnists and journalists. FARA documents provide insights into foreign governments approach Washington, and how D.C. lobbying firms influence public officials and public perceptions.
For example, on July 23, 2009, Ambassador Hugh Llorens sent a cable outlining why the removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was most likely illegal. Titled "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup," the document read in part, "No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and [interim president Roberto] Micheletti's ascendance as 'interim president' was totally illegitimate." Llorens, a career foreign service officer who'd also served in Spain and on the National Security Council, added, "Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew — the way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring country."
On Sept. 8, Honduras hired Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates to "achieve a better positioning of the government before international public opinion," including efforts to "design a persuasion campaign at an international level, particularly among the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate," among others. Peter Schechter, a former deputy staff director for the House Subcommittee on International Development Institutions and Finance, signed the contract; over the next few months, the firm's lobbyists had multiple contacts with members of Congress and their staffs, including staffers of Sen. Jim DeMint, D-N.C., who became an ardent supporter of the provisional government, and even took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal after a visit to the country to write, "In a day packed with meetings, we met only one person in Honduras who opposed Mr. Zelaya's ouster, who wishes his return, and who mystifyingly rejects the legitimacy of the November elections: U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens."
The preoccupations of diplomats, as demonstrated in the Wikileaks cables, were also the subject of intense lobbying efforts. An April 9, 2009 cable recounts a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Ambassador Yousef al Otaiba to discuss, among other things, "action the UAE can take to encourage a positive Congressional review" for its effort to sign an agreement to receive U.S. nuclear technology. FARA disclosures show that U.S. lobbyists were pushing the UAE's position with Washington officials from January to May 2009–when an agreement was successfully concluded. Cables on South Korea reference the stalled free trade agreement, a preoccupation of South Korea's registered lobbyists. Diplomats issued talking points on decisions to abandon locating missile defense installations in Poland, a decision lobbyists for that country had tried to influence.
Dig into the thousands of records of attempts by foreign interests to influence Washington at the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker.