What foreign interests spent the most to influence the USA?

Photo of modernistic white building with four white and pink flags in front and stylized T logo on top
Bonn headquarters of Deutsche Telekomm, the top foreign influencer of 2013 according to Foreign Agent Registration Data on Sunlight’s new foreign influence tracker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia.de)

German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom, which owns the fourth largest U.S. mobile network provider, T-Mobile USA, spent more money lobbying the U.S. government than any other foreign interest in 2013.

The $11.8 million budget that Deutsche Telekom reported to the Department of Justice put it at the top of a list that included many American firms, most of them well-known Washington lobbying shops, according an analysis made possible by Sunlight’s newly improved tool for studying records filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Our FARA tracker, now housed under Influence Explorer, gives users an unprecedented ability to sort and summarize data heretofore locked into PDFs at the Department of Justice. By hand-entering data from these documents into a structured database, Sunlight has made it possible to readily see and analyze information on how foreign interests are working to influence policy and public opinion in Washington and beyond.

Of the remaining top 2013 spenders representing foreign interests, most are lobbying firms with deep roots in Washington. The complete top ten list is below. For purposes of this analysis, we excluded companies or other groups that spent money in the United States and registered as foreign agents but did not lobby the federal government. This includes groups such as tourist bureaus.

Foreign Agent Payments
Deutsche Telekom, Inc. $11,858,343.34
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP $10,514,503.49
Quebec Government House $9,100,221.50
The Camstoll Group LLC $7,584,449.69
Podesta Group, Inc. $5,172,650.90
Hogan & Hartson LLP (Hogan Lovells US LLP) $4,939,760.73
Patton Boggs LLP $4,751,186.13
The Harbour Group, LLC $4,235,724.64
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP $3,384,480.69
Barbour Griffith & Rogers LLC d/b/a BGR Holding $2,583,595.04

For a complete list of foreign agents in the United States, click here.

Sunlight has completed entry of all the FARA data for 2013. We are now adding data for earlier years to bridge the gap to an earlier FARA database that we built with Pro Publica. When we complete the work, we will have a database of foreign influence records stretching back to 2008. Want to help? Click here.

The hard work of data entry will facilitate analysis like the one we did to determine last year’s biggest foreign influence spenders and make it easy to see what these companies did with all that money. Deutsche Telekom’s lobbying included discussions with a number of congressional representatives about the then-pending merger of T-Mobile USA with Metro PCS. That deal became final a year ago. And now, Sprint is reportedly in talks with Deutsche Telekom to merge with T-Mobile.

The amount reported by Deutsche Telekom was more than any other foreign entity that lobbied the U.S. government last year, including entire countries and other types of business interests (tourism boards from the Caribbean and economic councils, such as the Korea Economic Institute, etc.) It was also twice as much the $5.2 million the American arm of the company reported spending on lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.org (Note: OpenSecrets refers to T-Mobile USA by its parent company’s name). Deutsche Telekom spokesman Phillip Kornstaedt said T-Mobile’s domestic lobbying expenses are separate from those the parent company reported to the Department of Justice.

The difference between what Deutsche Telekom reported to DOJ and what its U.S. subsidiary reported to Congress reveals the value of the data unlocked by our FARA database: Lobbyists working for foreign entities, who report to the Department of Justice, must provide much more detailed information about the work they are doing than do lobbyists for domestic causes and organizations, who report to the Congress. The reports required by FARA include names of people whom the lobbyists met, and all contacts made on behalf of a foreign entity, including meetings with members of the executive branch and individuals who work for private concerns, such as members of the media.

For companies like T-Mobile, which have foreign parents, the FARA database can round out the picture of the company’s influence.

Deutsche Telekom representatives met with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., Sens. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, office and staffers for the House Judiciary Committee. They also met with Michael Froman who is now the U.S. Trade Representative, but was then the Assistant to the President of the United States and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs.

Deutsche Telekom’s Kornstaedt confirmed that the meetings with the lawmakers were to discuss the Metro PCS merger. However, he didn’t say whether the meetings with Froman were to discuss the merger as well.

A previous attempt by T-Mobile to merge with AT&T was blocked by the U.S. government. That deal was determined to violate anti-trust laws if carried through.

Coming tomorrow: More lists and data from Sunlight’s new foreign influence tracker