WASHINGTON — For a decade, Democrat Jim Slattery and Republican Vin Weber represented opposing parties in the House. Today, the two former representatives are aligned in advocating for a western-leaning Ukraine.
The two ex-lawmakers were among the lobbyists paid more than $1 million last year to represent partisans in the Ukrainian conflict, Senate records show. It’s a familiar tactical move as a number of countries undergoing political upheaval, including Egypt and Libya, are turning to former elected and government officials to make their case in Washington.
“Given the sprawl of interest groups throughout U.S. national politics, all those engaged — corporations, nonprofits, countries, rebel factions, tin-pot dictators — have on the first page of their playbook, âhire a lobbyist,'” said Rogan Kersh, a lobbying specialist and provost at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“In virtually every significant conflict around the globe, as civilians flee contested territory and protesters risk their lives or at least livelihoods, the big winner tends not to be either side, but the lobbyist-advisers collecting handsome fees along the way,” Kersh said.
Groups lobbying on foreign policy, including those representing other countries, spent $5.3 million last year, an increase from $4.8 million in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks political spending. The figures don’t include firms that aren’t registered with Congress.
“They want to succeed in their policy goals and use lobbyists to help do that on the Hill, with the White House, and with executive branch departments,” said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington.
In some cases, they’re looking for millions of dollars in U.S. aid, backing from the State Department, or trying to “keep their image and visibility in the U.S. positive,” Thurber said.
The Egyptian government in October hired the Washington- based Glover Park Group, whose principals include veterans of former President Bill Clinton’s administration, for “public diplomacy, strategic communications counsel and government relations services,” according to a Justice Department registration form. The current Egyptian government took power in July after a military coup ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
The Libyan government is represented by Patton Boggs, Justice filings show. Patton Boggs is the largest lobbying firm by revenue, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Tensions have been rising in Ukraine since November after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed course and shunned a planned European Union trade agreement in favor of $15 billion in Russian financing. Amid street protests, Yanukovych fled Kiev, resurfacing in Russia on Feb. 28, and Russian-speaking forces seized control of government buildings and airports in Ukraine’s southern Crimea region.
Russia on Wednesday defied pleas from the West to loosen its grip on Crimea, as the European Union promised 1.6 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in emergency aid to help the fledgling Ukrainian government avert a default.
Weber, who represented Minnesota for 12 years in the House, is registered to lobby for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a Brussels-based non-government organization initially supported by Yanukovych. Weber’s firm, Mercury Public Affairs, was paid $280,000 by the Brussels group in 2013, Senate filings show. Weber didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
The European Centre involved Yanukovych’s government and members of his political party “because they were in the position to deliver on key reforms” needed to integrate Ukraine with Europe, the organization said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “Many of those reforms were initiated under the previous government. We hope that the current government will continue on this track.”
The Brussels organization also is being represented by the Podesta Group, whose founder, Anthony Podesta, is the brother of John Podesta, a former Clinton chief of staff who is now counselor to President Obama.
The Podesta Group is the third-biggest U.S. lobby firm by revenue, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The firm received $510,000 from the European group last year, Senate reports show, and Podesta said he still represents the organization.
“We think it’s in the interests of the Ukrainian people and Ukraine to join the EU,” Podesta said in a telephone interview yesterday. “We’re happy to do anything we can to promote Ukraine’s aspirations to join the EU.”
Slattery, who represented Kansas in the House for 12 years, is registered to lobby for Ukrainian businessman Oleksandr Tymoshenko, husband of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released last month after being imprisoned for abuse of office in connection with a Russian natural gas contract. Her party is an advocate for a western-leaning Ukraine, and is now part of the government that replaced Yanukovych.
The Senate in November unanimously passed a resolution calling for Tymoshenko’s release. A similar resolution has been introduced in the House.
Tymoshenko became prime minister in 2005 after the Orange Revolution helped overturn Yanukovych’s presidential victory. She lost the presidency to Yanukovych in 2010.
Slattery, who has served as an election monitor in Ukraine, didn’t return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
Russia and the state-controlled gas company OAO Gazprom are represented in the U.S. by the New York-based public relations firm Ketchum Inc., Justice filings show. Ketchum brought on Alston & Bird LLP, the 15th biggest lobbying firm by revenue, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The law firm was listed as an active representative as of Jan. 7, though the reports don’t indicate what issues Alston and Ketchum are advocating.