President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden sat down with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Thursday morning at the White House to discuss a range of issues, but chief among them will be Australia’s interest in beefing up its military and weapons capacity. The government of South Australia, one of the country’s six states and the only one with an independent defense agency, spent more than $215,000 at the end of 2013 lobbying the U.S. on a navy port in Osborne.
Last year, Australia and the United States negotiated three separate proposed arms deals, in which U.S. companies would sell weapons and military equipment for $3.8 billion.
Data from Sunlight’s Foreign Influence Explorer tool shows that South Australia hired Fletcher Rowley, a Nashville-based P.R. and Democratic political consulting firm, to make 24 contacts with members of Congress and military leaders in 2013. The document reveals that the subject of each meeting or email was “discussion of Techport Australia.”
According to its website, Techport Australia supports the government-owned ship building company ASC “to deliver the Royal Australian Navy’s next generation Air Warfare Destroyers and will also support the future delivery of a range of naval projects, including the assembly of the next generation of submarines.”
In February 2013, documents show that Australia wanted to dole out $3.7 billion to purchase up to 12 Super Hornet aircraft and 12 Growler aircraft and other equipment like engines, radar systems, night vision goggles and guided missile launchers. Boeing, General Electric, Data Link Solutions, BAE Systems, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon and Visions Systems International are all listed as the “prime contractors” for the sale.
A few months later, in July, the Pentagon announced that Australia wanted to buy 100 torpedoes and related items from Raytheon for $83 million. The document states that Australia planned to use the torpedoes on “its MH-60R helicopters and intends to use the torpedo on a planned purchase” of another aircraft.
Australia then wanted to buy ammunition and gear to the tune of $54 million, including precision guidance kits and training equipment from Alliant Techsystems.
At the same time that Australia and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a part of the Pentagon that seeks to strengthen allied militaries, were working out the proposed arms sales, Fletcher Rowley was meeting with members of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Navy.
The lobbying firm met with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia on July 29, 2013, to discuss the naval port in South Australia. In the next few months, the firm also met with Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., Rob Wittman, R-Va., Randy Forbes, R-Va., Joe Courtney, D-Conn., and Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., all members of House Armed Services Committee. Fletcher Rowley’s personnel also held face-to-face meetings with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. The three senators all sit on the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
Disclosure forms filed with the Department of Justice make this level of detailed information available. The Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, or FARA, requires that lobbying firms, PR outfits and individuals who work on behalf of foreign governments in the U.S. disclose their activities to the Justice Department. Sunlight’s Foreign Influence Explorer tool digitizes the information found in the forms. The tool also includes a Proposed Arms Sales Feed, which collects press releases from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency about proposed sales from the U.S. to foreign countries and international organizations.
According to the White House schedule, the president and vice president are slated to talk about “the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Australia’s leadership of the G-20 this year, the future of Afghanistan, and the growing bilateral defense relationship, including the rotation of U.S. Marines through Darwin.”
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