Top target list for foreign interests includes some surprises

Head and shoulders shot of smiling young man with short dark hair, wearing blue shirt and tie.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a first-term Democrat from Connecticut, drew the most contacts from foreign lobbyists in 2013. (Photo credit: U.S. Congress via GitHub)

Which members of Congress do the lobbyists representing foreign interests target most?

We’ve compiled a list of the top ten, based on a tabulation of reports filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) during 2013, and compiled in a searchable format by Sunlight’s new Foreign Influence Explorer. The lineup contains some expected results and some unusual twists.

First, as might be expected, senators were targeted more often than members of the House or executive branch officials, and most of those contacted held seats on their chambers’ foreign affairs or appropriations committees. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., was the only House member on the Top Ten list. (One possible explanation: Senators have more clout on legislation because there are fewer of them; and foreign governments or corporations usually have more at stake in bills that normally are handled by appropriations or foreign affairs panels.)

At the same time, surprisingly, many of the lawmakers on the list of the top ten contacts were freshmen, who, under the House and Senate seniority systems, are unlikely to have much influence on such weighty issues. One possibility why the junior members attracted more attention from lobbyists may have been that they—and their staffs—are easier to approach than long-established lawmakers. New to Washington’s social pecking order, and more dazzled by contact with foreign entities, they — or their staffers — also may be more willing to take time out to meet foreign representatives and attend various functions than older members who have been-there, done-that.

While lobbyists contact “old bulls because they know what’s going on,” Tom Korologos, a longtime lobbyist who served as former President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Belgium, noted that representatives of foreign interests see value in getting to know congressional novices as well. “Young people are being called to make them knowledgeable about the interests they are representing,” he said.

Lawmakers most contacted by foreign interests: 2013

1. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn. Contacted 216 times by 16 registrants 2. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. Contacted 192 times by 17 registrants 3. Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho Contacted 179 times by 14 registrants 4. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Contacted 175 times by 14 registrants 5. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. Contacted 173 times by 19 registrants 6. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Contacted 161 times by 11 registrants 7. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Contacted 156 times by 18 registrants 8. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Contacted 154 times by 18 registrants 9. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. Contacted 151 times by 16 registrants 10. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Contacted 147 times by 18 registrants

For a closer look at who contacted them and what committees they’re on, check out our searchable, sortable table here.

Many of the big names so familiar to TV viewers as foreign affairs specialists—such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — are either low on the Top Ten list or didn’t show up at all. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., don’t appear on the list but deputy Democratic Leader Dick Durbin does.

FARA registrants — those representing foreign interests in the U.S. — reported more than 100,000 individual contacts designed to help strengthen their influence in 2013, from telephone calls, e-mail messages, and meetings to issuing press releases and attending conferences aimed at bolstering tourism in clients’ countries. Of these, some 16,000 contacts were aimed specifically at members of the House and Senate and their staffs. Others targeted administration officials at the State Department, Commerce Department, and other agencies.

The documents filed under FARA vary widely in how much detail a lobbying firm provides about each of its contact. Some reports merely describe the subject of an encounter as “U.S.-[name of country] relations.” Others may cite a specific bill as the topic of discussion—such as the immigration reform legislation that surfaced briefly in 2013 before disappearing from the congressional agenda.

One important factor to keep in mind: some foreign lobbyists and representatives report more information than others. Some give very general descriptions of their contacts — “talked to Congress members” — while others are much more specific, stating whether they spoke to lawmakers themselves or their staffers, and naming names.

For purposes of this analysis, we counted contacts with lawmakers or their staffers as a contact with the congressional office they represent.

Leading the 2013 list is Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., who chalked up 216 contacts over the year, spread among 16 lobbying firms, public relations companies, and other outfits representing foreign interests. Sen. Murphy, who just took office in January, 2013, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate panel on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

In the number-two slot was Bass. The second-term House member sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. She attracted lobbyists representing Kenya, Morocco, Somalia, South Korea, Japan, Cyprus, India, Georgia, Turkey, Taiwan, and Venezuela, to name a few.

This look at how foreign interests interact with Congress represents just a small sample of the kind of analysis made possible by our just-launched Foreign Influence Explorer. We’ll be hosting a webinar on Tuesday to provide more details on how to use this powerful new tool. Register here.