On October 5, 2008 U.S. and Libyan business leaders met with Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary Israel Hernandez as he opened a new Foreign Commercial Service office in Tripoli. In the same year, more companies and trade associations than ever before disclosed that they were lobbying the U.S. government in Washington to keep the newly opened African nation open for business. Much of that lobbying aided in the growing U.S.-Libyan business connection that led to the opening of the office.
According to lobbying disclosure reports, fifteen companies and two trade associations listed Libyan issues on their lobbying disclosure forms since President George W. Bush lifted economic sanctions on Libya in 2004. Libya’s large oil reserves, the biggest of any African nation, were the main focus of the lobbying efforts in Washington.
These companies include a who’s who of international oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Shell, and Hess Corporation. The non-energy firms lobbying on Libya include Boeing, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, Fluor Corporation, Halliburton, Motorola, and Raytheon. All of these companies have been engaged in business deals or attempted to enter the Libyan market over the past six years.
The current revolution in Libya has upended the recent engagement between the Government of Libya, the foreign oil companies, and the other corporations that have worked to enter the country’s market.
Lobbying was a regular feature as these companies sought to protect their new investments and get the U.S. government to smooth out business problems with the erratic regime. One issue that combined both of these lobbying topics came about from one amendment proposed to deal with state sponsors of terrorism.
According to diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks, an amendment added to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, known as the Lautenberg amendment, made it easier for plaintiffs in terrorism lawsuits to seize foreign government-owned assets from state sponsors of terrorism. This proved problematic for companies that had already entered into business arrangements with Libya as the government had not finished making payments to plaintiffs in the Lockerbie bombing case.
In 1988, terrorists blew up a passenger airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland at the behest of the government of Libya. In total, 270 people were killed. In 2002, Libya announced that it would pay the victim’s families $2.7 billion and paid it back in part as sanctions were lifted from the country and the country was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
This initial payment led to further discussion to repay victim’s families for other terrorist attacks that Libya undertook in the past. The passage of the Lautenberg amendment occurred in the context of these new negotiations.
The cables show that the Libyan government told the U.S. oil companies that “it is “their problem” to solve, and has begun requiring U.S. and other companies to conduct all operations in non-dollar denominations.” This meant that the companies would have to face the consequences of any future settlements that occurred under the Lautenberg amendment.
For the large part of 2008, the fifteen companies lobbying then focused on the repeal of the Lautenberg amendment. On August 4, 2008, they were successful. The resolution, known as the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, exempted Libya from the Lautenberg amendment barring the country settle for the victims of the other four terrorist attacks. On August 14, 2008, the United States approved a $1.8 billion settlement for the victims and the companies no longer faced the possibility of asset forfeiture.
These companies did not just rely on lobbying to their benefit over the years, but also created a non-lobbying advocacy organization to influence public opinion. The US-Libya Business Association was founded by many of the companies that lobbied Washington on Libyan issues in the 2000s along with White & Case, the law firm retained by the Government of Libya as registered foreign lobbyists
In 2009, the US-Libya Business Association ceded all of its advocacy work to the National Foreign Trade Council, a long-standing free trade group operating in Washington. According to a press release, “The association will remain a separate entity but will be co-located with the NFTC.”
With the present turmoil in Libya, the future prospects of the companies that have lobbied to protect their stake in the country are unclear. Some companies have evacuated employees while others have stated that their operations can still continue. The political response from the United States government may be equally worrying.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said that the crackdown “beyond despicable” and called for American and international businesses to cease operations immediately and for the Obama Administration to re-impose sanctions lifted by President Bush. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen echoed Kerry’s call for a re-imposition of sanctions.
As the revolution continues unabated, these companies may wind up needing their lobbyists more than ever.
|National Assn of Manufacturers||–||–||–||Lobbied||–||–|
|National Foreign Trade Council||–||–||–||–||Lobbied||Lobbied|