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DLA Piper, a hired gun for rogue nations

DLA Piper chief executive Nigel Knowles poses with Obama

A Newsweek article by Joshua Kurlantzick points out the shameful activities of some law/lobbying firms in Washington DC that are hired guns for criminal regimes around the world who are terrorizing their people. The most notorious among them is DLA Piper that receives over $50,000 per month from the genocidal junta in Ethiopia for lobbying U.S. Government officials to play down the brutal repression in the country. DLA Piper has also been trying to shut down Ethiopian Review on behalf of the Meles regime’s moneyman Al Amoudi. The effects of DLA Piper’s lobbying has been disastrous to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region. Its client, the regime in Ethiopia, has been committing unspeakable atrocities through out Ethiopia and the region with impunity while getting billions of dollar in assistance from the US. In Ogaden and Gambella regions of Ethiopia, the regime’s troops wiped out entire villages, as documented by international human rights groups. The U.S. Government, which is quick to point out human rights violations around the world, has said little about Ethiopian regime’s crimes, due in large part to DLA Piper’s lobbying effort.

The Hired Guns: When leaders of rogue nations hire Washington lobbyists, opposition voices get crowded out.

By Joshua Kurlantzick | Newsweek

Once the province of a few fringe players operating on the margins of Washington, lobbying for foreign countries has become big business for the most prestigious firms in D.C. According to data from the Department of Justice, the number of registrants—forms submitted by people registered to represent foreign countries—grew from about 1,800 in the first half of 2005 to 1,900 in the first half of 2009, the most recent data available. Human-rights activists say there has been a steeper rise, particularly in terms of dollars spent, among some of the most brutal regimes on earth, including several sanctioned by the U.S. for their human-rights abuses.

The Republic of the Congo spent $1.5 million on lobbying and PR firms and other representation in the first half of 2009 alone, according to reports compiled by the Justice Department. Angola, one of the most corrupt nations in the world, spent more than $3 million in that period. Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the brutal dictator of African petrostate Equatorial Guinea, who took power more than three decades ago in a coup, has hired the law firm of former Bill Clinton aide Lanny Davis to lobby on his behalf, for the annual sum of $1 million. (Davis says the arrangement is contingent on Obiang’s progress on human-rights issues.) Chris Walker, of the NGO Freedom House, says this is all a reflection of the fact that “authoritarian regimes recognize there is a greater payoff in participating in and influencing the decision-making process, rather than sitting it out.”

In the past, foreign lobbying by rogues in Washington was a relatively small game. Nazi agents lobbying in Washington before World War II had tainted the whole enterprise, a stain that would take decades to erase. Though allies like Japan or Britain could find representation, the task of shilling for the nastiest governments fell to those like Edward von Kloberg III. Wearing a cape and calling himself “Baron,” a made-up honor, he represented Saddam Hussein and Nicolae Ceausescu, among others. Many developing nations, including China, meanwhile, had little idea how to win influence in Washington through lobbying. China has built a lobby since its harsh experience in 2005, when Congress, playing upon a strong anti-China sentiment among constituents, scuttled an attempt by China National Offshore Oil Corp. to purchase American petroleum firm Unocal. Now even new regimes waste no time finding their men in Washington. After seizing power in a coup last summer, and facing immediate criticism from the Obama administration, Honduras’s new military rulers quickly spent at least $400,000 to hire powerful American firms to lobby for them.

One result is that lobbying has become less transparent. U.S. law requires lobbyists to disclose all contracts with foreign clients, but the reality is that filings about foreign clients offer little information, and some lobbyists simply don’t file. “I was so careful to document every phone call, every meeting, and then I found that some other people, they don’t file at all,” says one lobbyist who works extensively with foreign clients. “Does anything happen to them? Not really.” Since the mid-1960s, in fact, the U.S. government has never successfully prosecuted anyone for violating the disclosure rules.

The rise in foreign lobbying may have also compromised the policymaking of current and future U.S. government officials. With little oversight, lobbyists can represent the most repressive regimes and then turn around and work in government. According to John Newhouse, author of a forthcoming book on the influence of foreign lobbies on American policies, one of John McCain’s senior foreign-policy advisers during his 2008 campaign, Randy Scheunemann, simultaneously worked for McCain and as a paid adviser to the government of Georgia, which had been accused of human-rights violations. Despite McCain’s reputation as a leading champion of human rights, Scheunemann largely escaped questions about whether his lobbying might have affected his foreign-policy advice to the powerful senator. Similarly, while at Cassidy & Associates, lobbyist Amos Hochstein oversaw the Equatorial Guinea account, which required him to argue the merits of one of the most repressive regimes on earth. Still, after leaving Cassidy, Hochstein landed a prominent job on the (ill-fated) 2008 presidential campaign of Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a politician also known for his longstanding human-rights advocacy. Now Hochstein says he helped “move the ball forward on human rights” in the country.

Lobbying can turn down the pressure on authoritarian regimes. After years of intense lobbying, Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang managed to transform his image in Washington from a venal autocrat into a solid American ally and buddy of U.S. business. In 2006 he strode out of a meeting at Foggy Bottom with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who declared him “a good friend.” Last year Obiang met with Obama for a public photo op, which is coveted by foreign leaders. Similarly, according to several congressional staffers, the authoritarian regime in Kazakhstan won support for its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe by hiring lobbyists to help quiet congressional critics of Kazakhstan’s human-rights record. Ethiopia’s lobbying, meanwhile, has helped to defuse charges that the government has turned increasingly authoritarian. In a memo sent to congressional offices, DLA Piper, representing Ethiopia, argued, “The terms ‘political prisoners’ and ‘prisoners of conscience’ are undefined and mischaracterize the situation in Ethiopia,” and should be removed from a bill that condemned the Ethiopian regime for detaining opposition activists.

All this has taken a toll. Many democratic countries retain lobbyists in Washington to handle issues like trade disputes or intellectual-property challenges. But in those free countries, human-rights activists or opponents of the government could hire their own lobbyists in Washington and make their cases to the American government. Not so in the world’s most repressive countries. Though there are rare exceptions, like the Tibetan government in exile, most human-rights activists in authoritarian countries cannot make the close connections in Washington, or come up with the funds needed to match the lobbying of leaders like Obiang. The result: while thugs get heard in Washington, the voices of their opponents remain silent.

(With R. M. Schneiderman in New York. Kurlantzick is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.)

17 thoughts on “DLA Piper, a hired gun for rogue nations

  1. Disclosure or no disclosure, lobbying is undemocratic, and unethical. It is all about a misguided national interest philosophy.Thugs do get heard in Washington and the voice of their opponents are kept silent deliberately.

  2. I don’t get it what the difference between lobbying and bribery. When the common people do it it is called bribery, but when higher official do it it is called lobbying. It is really really a mad mad world. These little children are playing with fire.

  3. the question is what can we do about it.
    i think when we get red of Woyane that will stop the problem until then let us work hard to eradicate WOYANE……

  4. There is no distinguish between terrorists and those who harbor them. The African people should sue the DLA Piper for all the atrocities they have been sponsoring and advocating on behalf of African murderer leaders.

  5. The lobbyists such as DLA Piper are anti-Ethiopian people and Human Rights Institutions. It is shameful for the Piper to suggest that “The terms ‘political prisoners’ and ‘prisoners of conscience’ are undefined and mischaracterize the situation in Ethiopia.'” He is not conscious for his integrity and self esteem to make such statement whereas there are thousands of political prisoners. Although he is on Meles’ payroll, he should have some reservation from making such statement. Very sad.

  6. As documentary film maker, Michael Moore, takes on the insurance and health block among others, so can you, Elias Kifle, take on DLA-Piper and win. David V. Goliath for the glory of the people, in this case you have the honor to be the hero. The dreadful, one-way letter arrives to your pain, though, not when you take on DLA and its client – Al_Amoudi, Zenawi et al. – but when you prematurely take on Memher Zebene.

  7. Currently all law firms are struggling to stand still and DLA is not going to be the exception. Actually, DLA has been in the news for axing partners salaries repeatedly from the standard $160.00 southward. $50,000 x 12 = $600,000, divided by 160,000 equals salary for only 3.75 newly minted lawyers. DLA has 3,500 lawyers. Stop the whale.

  8. So much for the human right champion president, Obama. When Obama criticized most, Ethiopians take it personal as if he is their brother or the uncle. Some even forget he is just another politician.

    To me, he is worst than Bush especially when it comes to Ethiopia. Let’s face it.

  9. Unless you underestimate your audience, Elias you are wasting time on something that is obvious. Looks like business is slow for you. Is it because you got no issue that you keep harping on this fat lobby firm. You are unbelievable.

  10. Meles is playing the game very well. He has been successful not only because DLA Piper had been lobbying for him, but also, among many other reasons, the Ethiopian diaspora has not been able to do enough in countering his efforts. It is time to unite! It is the least we ought to do

  11. The heading of this article should have been ‘Obama on the Spotlight’! How does a sitting US President pose with the lobbyist of a tyrannical ruler? Such lobbying firms have no integrity or decency, they are just satisfying their greed or else they wouldn’t take the financial aid provided by the West to feed the people. Meles has enriched himself so much by helping himself to the development funds provided by the US, UK, EU, the World Bank and many more. The Ethiopian people will not forget the injustice and treachery inflicted on them by the tyrant and his supporters.

  12. DLA do not care where and how the money comes to their bank accounts. Most often, the money that goes in their bank accounts is socked with innocents fresh human blood. Most of the dictators who are represented by DLA, like tyrants Meles have been accused for human abuse by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. DLA spins, lies, denies, and cover-up and draw pleasant pictures for their criminal dictators regardless how high their crimes might be. DLA don’t give a hoot to what happens to innocent children, women and men who get abused, robbed, tortured and killed by their dictators or starve to death for lack of food and water, as long as, the dictators stay in power and be able to pay that chunk of monthly charge to DLA Piper. Workers and Members of DLA Piper are feeding themselves and their children blood money. Dirty, Dirty, Dirty Businesses! They might claim they are Christians, but everything what they do is totally against the teachings of Christianity. What goes around comes around, and one of these days, God will expose DLA Piper who and what they really are. May God watch over Ethiopians, and bring the end of their sufferings.

  13. As wrong as it is to work for the most brutal regime in Africa, DLA Piper is doing its job. DLA doesn’t care about Ethiopia or any other country as long as it gets paid. Leaders in opposition camps are the one who let the Ethiopian people down. As long as they are divided Ethiopians will suffer. They (opposition group) need to come to reality, workout their differences and find a lasting solution. Otherwise Weyane will be in power for generation. If oppositions have problem working together, step back and let the young generation step in. They are good for noting anyways.

  14. Entity’s socially irresponsible work may have caused or contributed to major human rights violators that has been reported by major human rights organizations. Demonstration will have intangible cost to that type socially irresponsible firm that negates social responsibility. Media agents may be receptive to victims and friends’ demonstration signs front of the Law Office. Crying signs the entity represents African human rights abusers and dictators may be newsworthy item.

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