Three Washington D.C.-based firms brought in millions of dollars lobbying for foreign countries with interests in the outcome of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which determines the budget for the Pentagon and military operations.
A conference of members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees released the finalized version of the 2024 NDAA on Dec. 7, which will be considered and voted on by members of both houses of Congress before being presented to the President.
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck made nearly $49 million from lobbying for various clients in the first nine months of 2023, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets. While many of its clients were American companies, it received over $2.8 million for their work for foreign nations and nationals—making it one of the top U.S. firms working as a registrant under the Foreign Agents Registration Act this year.
Several of their contracts involved lobbying the NDAA on behalf of principals from countries such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
A supplemental statement outlining the firm’s lobbying efforts for South Korea lists meetings held by former Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding the 2024 NDAA. Begich joined Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck as a strategic consulting advisor in 2015, the same year he left Congress.
Sen. Angus King (I-ME) introduced an amendment that encourages a briefing on Arctic watchtower research. South Korea joined the Arctic Council in 2013 and has recently been outspoken on increasing scientific cooperation in the Arctic.
Merkley proposed a separate amendment directing the Secretary of Defense to investigate “any indications that United States-origin defense articles have been used in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition in substantial violation of relevant agreements with countries participating in th e coalition, including for unauthorized purposes.”
The statement mentioned various emails sent to members of Congress by Nadeam Elshami, a policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and former chief of staff for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The emails contained information about the conflict in Yemen and statements made by President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the conflict. Markey was among the recipients, while Merkley was listed as receiving email correspondence regarding Saudi assistance to Ukraine.
Other items on the statement refers to email requests for meetings between the Korean and Japanese embassies and Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who proposed an amendment to the NDAA stressing the importance of continued intelligence sharing between the U.S., Korea, Japan and Taiwan to counter “the malign activities of China and North Korea in the Indo-Pacific.”
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s statement also mentions a request for a meeting between Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and the Egyptian ambassador in March 2023. Durbin, who is the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense, introduced an amendment to the NDAA to allocate funds for Egypt in the Foreign Military Sales Trust Fund.
Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld
Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld made more than $1.8 million for its work reported under FARA in 2023. The firm’s contracts included agreements to lobby the NDAA on behalf of the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.
The UAE subcontracted lobbying firm American Defense International, Inc. through Akin Gump to assist with “US legislative and related policy matters potentially affecting the interests of the UAE including military sales from the United States and their relationship with the United States.”
The firm’s supplemental statement filed in August lists its political contributions made throughout the reporting period, including a $3,300 contribution from American Defense International CEO Michael Herson to the campaign of Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).
Gallego introduced an amendment to the NDAA seeking a report from the Secretary of Defense outlining the defense cooperations between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the People’s Republic of China.
The Moroccan embassy also contracted Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld to lobby on the NDAA. Much of the firm’s work for this contract included contacting members of Congress to invite them to Morocco.
Reps. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Tex.), who took part in a congressional delegation trip to Morocco in March 2023, all received emails from the firm on behalf of the Moroccan government in the weeks leading up to and following the trip.
After returning from a separate delegation visit to Morocco in January 2023, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) introduced an amendment to the NDAA to integrate Morocco into United States Central Command military exercises.
“Senator Kelly developed the proposal in consultation with U.S. military staff after a trip to Morocco and other countries in the region,” Kelly’s office told OpenSecrets.
While the firm did not report any direct interaction with Kelly as part of their contract, Akin Gump PAC and employees of the firm reported contributing $7,000 to his campaign committee during the 2022 election cycle.
Three countries—India, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan—hired lobbying firm BGR Group to monitor the NDAA and relevant amendments. In a 2022 statement filed by BGR general counsel Chelsea Mincheff, the firm outlined its lobbying activity relating to the NDAA in the interest of those countries. BGR reported a total income of over $2 million for their work under FARA.
Mincheff worked as legislative director for former Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) before leaving that position in May 2020 to join BGR.
BGR senior director Hunter Strupp consulted on the firm’s contract for the Embassy of the Republic of India. Prior to his work at BGR, Strupp was the staff director of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and Nonproliferation.
The statement filed by BGR lists correspondence with Bryan Burack, who was an Indo-Pacific foreign policy advisor for House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Tex.). Burack previously worked under Strupp during his time as a staff associate for the Subcommittee on Asia.
Strupp also “advised on and tracked Congress’s appropriations process and the National Defense Authorization Act” on behalf of the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2023, according to BGR’s June 2023 supplemental statement.
In the description of their lobbying and influence operations for the Azerbaijan Embassy, BGR outlined correspondence with lawmakers and aides to “oppose anti-Azerbaijan amendments to the NDAA.” These interactions were primarily in the form of emails sent by BGR Principal Mark Tavlarides, with many emails addressing a decades-old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Email recipients also included Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair recently indicted on charges of illegally acting as a foreign agent. Menendez’s campaign committee received $2,100 in political contributions from BGR employees in March 2023 before being contacted by the firm on behalf of Azerbaijan in May.
Menendez and Costa both introduced amendments to the Senate and House versions of the NDAA to open an investigation of Azerbaijani human rights violations and prohibit weapons exports to the country.
Costa cited Azerbaijan’s blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority-Armenian enclave that broke away from Azerbaijan in the 1990s. In September 2023, Azerbaijan seized control of the region, displacing much of the Armenian population.
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