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The Hired Guns

Authors: R. M. Schneiderman, and Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
July 26, 2010


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.”

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