Political donations made by foreign agents acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia have gone beyond $1.6 million leading up to the 2018 mid-term elections. This was reported by Open Secrets, citing a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics (CPR).
Out of these $1.6 million, approximately $500 thousand are political donations from operatives working for Saudi interests exceed half a million in 2018 elections while Political Action Committees (PACs) affiliated with lobbying and public relations firms account for an additional $1.1 million this election cycle.
The total amount is a conservative estimate by CPR based on reported political contributions by individuals and firms registered as foreign agents of Saudi Arabia, excluding individual lobbyist or operative contributions to their firm’s affiliated PAC to ensure no funds are double-counted. The estimate being conservative means that the total cash flow to politicians from lobbyists, firms and political operatives that represent the Kingdom’s interests is likely much bigger.
Open Secrets reported that the analysis doesn’t include donations made to the House Armed Services Committee members from leftover funds in the campaign committee of former Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon. He was a registered foreign agent of Saudi Arabia and lobbied for defense contractors with major interest in legislation related to arms deal, which was the under the committee’s responsibilities.
Saudi interests have spent more than $24 million to influence U.S. policy and public opinion during the 2018 election cycle, according to disclosures to the Department of Justice made in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and made available through CRP’s Foreign Lobby Watch tool.
Around $18 million was paid to foreign agents acting on behalf of the Kingdom in 2017, the leftover $6 has been reported as spent for 2018 alone.
This makes the Kingdom one of the top 10 countries which spend for influence and lobbying in the US. The top country is South Korea.
According to Open Secrets, however, following the controversy around Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, some of the companies that were hired to improve the Kingdom’s image and promote its interests in the US have sought to distance themselves from the country.
Some of the companies have undertaken public actions, formally changing their relationship status and formalizing the termination of their contracts with the Kingdom. This, however, could be just that – a public gesture that doesn’t lead to any changes beneath the surface.
Glover Park Group and its lobbyists “ceased providing services” to Saudi Arabia’s embassy effective October 15th, 2018. They continued disseminating information materials on behalf of Saudi Arabia through the entirety of September 2018.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher terminated the firm’s representation of Saudi Arabia on October 18th, 2018.
BGR Government Affairs’ terminated its relationship with a statement that simple says that the company will “no longer be working on behalf of The Embassy of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” on October 16th, 2018.
The Harbour Group also announced its plans to terminate its relationship with the Kingdom on October 12th, but on October 22nd there was still no termination filing, according to Open Secrets.
Saudi Arabia, despite these apparent setbacks, still has many companies who have not reacted to the controversy and will continue acting on its behalf.
The Kingdom’s efforts to “woo” the Trump administration are also quite evident.
One of Saudi Arabia’s highest-paid firms since Trump took office is Sonoran Policy Group, a lobbying firm founded by Trump campaign advisor Robert Stryk. A $5.4 million payment by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior paid up front for “broad advisory services” — under a contract that was reportedly terminated shortly after it was signed, resulting in the Trump ally-heavy firm essentially being paid over $5 million to “do nothing.” This is the majority of the company’s $6 million receipts from foreign interests in 2017.
Open Secrets also reported that conventional channels are not the only way the Kingdom provides incentive to support its interests.
“The Government of Saudi Arabia reported paying the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. nearly $270,000 as part of Qorvis MSLGroup’s lobbying campaign, as first reported by the Daily Caller and confirmed in a FARA disclosure made available through the Foreign Lobby Watch tool.”
The room revenue in the hotel rose 13% in the first quarter of 2018, after it was at a two-year decline, after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a “last minute” visit.
The Trump Organization claimed that it would donate foreign government investments to the US Treasury under an ethics agreement. However, it has kept the details of the agreement hidden from the public.
It is complicated to track the entire amount of Saudi Arabia donations to forward its interests in the US.
“Registrants working on behalf of foreign principals are only required to file a supplemental statement every six months with no set date as a deadline, so a reporting period may run over multiple calendar years, causing some of that spending to be included in a report filed during a year other than when the spending took place,” Open Secrets reported.
There are numerous retroactive filers in recent years so the Department of Justice’s semi-annual report to Congress most likely does not provide a complete and accurate representation of annual donations.
It’s interesting to note that the massive flow of the Saudi money to influence US elections is going amid the continued media hysteria of the alleged attempts by China and Russia to influence the US election cycle. Despite multiple claims and statements that Wshington has to defend the US from “foreing internvetion”, it seems that there are some countries that are welcomed to intervene in the US internal policy.