GEO

Paying for Attention – Georgia's Lobbying Efforts

12 February, 2010

In late January, the Georgian Government hired the American lobbying firm Gephardt Group Government Affairs, founded by the former Democratic House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, to promote Georgia's interests. The one-year contract is worth USD 436,000. TI Georgia looked at all active and terminated contracts between Georgian entities and American lobby firms that were registered by the United States Ministry of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and complied a database that lists and summarizes all such agreements. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia has hired professionals to lobby for its interests in the United States. Publicly available records of deals signed in the early 1990s between the Georgian Government and American firms that were hired to promote foreign investments in Georgia, however, don't state the value of the contracts. In the final years of President Eduard Shevardnadze's rule, the state-owned Georgian Railways were used to fund substantial lobbying activities in the United States. According to the agreements, the company spent USD 785,000 between early 2002 and early 2004. In the past years, however, Georgia's lobbying expenditures have increased significantly: Since the beginning of the August 2008 war, Georgia awarded contracts worth at least USD 1.67 million to American lobbyists. Since early 2004, when President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power, Georgia has spent USD 2.62 million on efforts to improve its image and political standing in the United States. The most important Georgian lobbyist in the United States in the past years was Orion Solutions. The company was awarded contracts worth USD 800,000 from the Georgian Government. Its founder, Randy Scheunemann, an important figure in neoconservative circles during the era of President George W. Bush, has also lobbied for other countries, namely Taiwan, Macedonia, Montenegro, Latvia and Romania, according to FARA-records. Orion Solutions has also worked for the National Rifle Association and Lockheed Martin, a defense company. In January 2007, Scheunemann became the senior foreign policy adviser to John McCain's Presidential campaign and was paid nearly USD 70,000 form the Senator's campaign until May 15th, 2008 – while receiving USD 290,000 for his services from the Georgian Government in the same period. Scheunemann also advised McCain during the Russia-Georgia war. Georgia's lobbying activities outside the United States are more difficult to track because obligations for lobbyists to register and to disclose their principals remain weak in the European Union. For PR activities in Europe, Aspect Consulting, a Brussels-based agency, received EUR 500,000 (about USD 690,000) in 2007, to promote Georgia's EU and NATO membership aspirations, according to a report by the Guardian. When the conflict between Georgia and Russia escalated, a propaganda war between the countries arose. James Hunt, a founding partner of Aspect Consulting, at the time told PR Week that he could not grasp how any PR company could be comfortable working for Russia. “I'm on the side of the angels”, he said. For supporting the spread of war propaganda during the August 2008 war, Georgia's and Russia's PR agencies in Brussels (Aspect Consulting working for Tbilisi and Gplus representing Moscow) were nominated for the “Worst EU Lobbying Awards” 2008. In July 2009, South Ossetia and Abkhazia both signed deals with the lobbying agency Mark Saylor Company, each worth USD 360,000 per year.

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