International influence: Agents of foreign clients report thousands of lobbying contacts, millions in fees


In 2009, lobbying, public relations and other firms that represent some 328 clients —foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities including some for-profit corporations—reported receiving more than $60 million in fees—down by about $25 million from the total in the previous year, an analysis of disclosures required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) shows. The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group has digitized and made searchable data from FARA disclosures. 

While some countries continued their lobbying efforts from previous years, including a group of African nations working towards receiving better trade benefits, others pushed for earmarks or attempted to influence House and Senate votes on Congressional resolutions.

Under FARA, all lobbyists who represent foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities in a “political or quasi-political capacity” must file semi-annual disclosures, which list their activities including specific contacts with government officials and members of the media, the fees they receive and any campaign contributions they make. Data for this analysis is based on filings in calendar year 2009. The reports cover lobbying activity that year and in late 2008, and provide an extensive look into how foreign countries advanced their interests in Washington, D.C., during the period.

Countries spending the most

The Cayman Islands in 2009 stepped up their spending, totaling more than $7.8 million, solely for promoting the islands to American tourists. From attending travel expos to wedding shows, representatives of the island resort crisscrossed the country trying to attract people to the Cayman Islands.

From state-owned businesses to political deal making, the seven sovereign nations that form the United Arab Emirates in all spent a total of $5.3 million in 2009 lobbying the U.S. government. The UAE hired D.C.-based lobbyists DLA Piper to work on the “123 agreement” that would give them access to nuclear technology from the U.S. starting in January 2009; a deal was signed in May 2009. In addition to atomic power for its energy sector, the Emirates pushed for this deal in response to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Recent documents released by the whistleblower site Wikileaks, show that the oil-rich country considered this a vital step in strengthening their ties Washington: “According to AbZ, [Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of UAE] the 123 is a powerful example for the region and provides a transparent alternative to Iran's nuclear model.  The UAE views Iran as a huge problem that goes far beyond nuclear capabilities.”

The government of a small, war-torn African country is the third largest spender on Washington influence, petitioning the U.S. government over the past two years to help it fend off efforts to collect debts incurred by previous regimes. In 2009 the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) spent over $3.9 million on lobbying activities and hired several high profile DC based lobbying firms, including the Livingston Group and Chlopak Leonard, which represents several African nations, to fight lawsuits brought on by “vulture funds.The funds buy up defaulted sovereign debt for pennies on the dollar and then institute court proceedings to recoup much larger amounts.

Republic of Congo’s government continued to lobby Congress in 2009 on bills introduced to protect debtor nations from lawsuits brought by a handful private equity firms that buy defaulted debt. If such a bill would pass, it would ensure than no U.S. national could invest in these firms and no U.S. court could hear these cases. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., introduced the bill in June 2009; she also sponsored a similar measure in 2008.

Congo also conducted a major public relations campaign on climate change issues in the Congo basin to help protect the natural habitat which is disappearing at a fast pace—about two million acres a year due to logging, mining and excessive farming.

Country Amount
Cayman Islands $7,890,000
United Arab Emirates $5,378,000
Republic of Congo $3,944,000
Morocco $3,155,000
Bahamas $2,577,000
Brazil $2,482,000
Serbia $2,214,000
Turkey $1,679,000
Vanuatu $1,633,000
Taiwan $1,548,000

Lawmakers with the most contacts

Reports filed under FARA in 2009 show that individual lobbyists working for foreign clients communicated with lawmakers or their staff 17,000 times, including 2,280 phone calls, 9,000 email correspondences and 2,900 face-to-face meetings.  

Lawmakers that had the most contacts with lobbyists for various foreign clients usually held a gavel, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who had about 85 contacts—either with her personally or with her staff. Several of her staffers met with Jack Quinn, head of Quinn Gillespie, a firm hired by the Republika Srpksa to lobby to pass a resolution “on the need for constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the importance of sustained United States engagement in partnership with the European Union,” which passed the House in May, records show. Quinn contacted Pelosi’s chief of staff via email in mid-March and a few weeks later made a $2400 contribution to her campaign. Former Congressman Vic Fazio, a lobbyist with Akin Gump also contacted Pelosi’s chief of staff in January 2009, regarding the UAE’s nuclear agreement.

Many of the other members whose offices were contacted more than 50 times served on either the House or Senate foreign affairs or homeland security committees. Lobbyists contacted former Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., who served on the House Foreign Relations committee and chaired the subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats, and his staff members some 83 times. Several of his offices’ communications were with the Gephardt Group, a lobbying shop headed by former Democratic Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., a former colleague of Wexler’s in the House. The group’s lobbyists scored meetings with Wexler’s staff director and chief of staff to discuss “U.S. Turkey issues,” FARA documents show.

Between April and November 2009, lobbyists from the Barbour Griffith firm contacted the staff of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Kyl himself several times on behalf Poland. At the time, the Obama administration had cancelled plans for missile defense installations that would be located in Poland and the Czech Republic. Kyl, who serves on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, came out against this decision and in an October press release said, "I was critical of the President's decision when he canceled the so-called missile shield that would have been located in Poland and in the Czech Republic – among other things, because I was concerned about the message that it sends to our allies in the region.”

Kyl is now objecting to the new START treaty, in part because of his concerns of linking the future of missile defense to nuclear arms reduction.

Lawmaker Number of Contacts
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA 85
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-FL 83
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-SC 77
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ 76
Sen. John Kerry, D-MA 72
Rep. Dan Burton, R-IN 62
Rep. John Boozman, R-AR 61
Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-NY 57
Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH 56
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA 54

Top campaign contributors

Among the registered foreign agents that have made the most campaign contributions, four are former members of Congress who are now approaching their old colleague’s offices as lobbyists and two others worked in high ranking congressional staff positions. The two biggest donors both come from the Gephardt Group. Thomas O’Donnell and Gephardt have combined to contribute approximately $93,400 in 2009 to various lawmakers and the party committees.

Other former lawmakers on this list include Republican Alfonse D’Amato who held a Senate seat from New York, Bob Livingston (former Speaker from Louisiana) and Bob Dole (Senator from Kansas)

Top Contributor Amount
Thomas O'Donnell $50,200
Richard Gephardt $43,200
Alfonse D'Amato $32,000
Charles A. Baker III $28,300
Robert J. Dole $27,400
Gregg Hartley $25,900
Jack Quinn $23,900
Paul Sweet $21,250
Linda Morgan $21,000
Bob Livingston $20,900