Did US lobbyists help Vladimir Putin win in Congress? You’ll never know. –Mother Jones

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As Vladimir Putin threatens Ukraine, the fate of a 764-mile pipeline under the Baltic Sea has to become one of the main foreign policy concerns of the United States – and one of the concerns of Washington more strongly put pressure problems. Last month, supporters of the pipeline, which would allow Russia to sell natural gas directly to Germany, won their case when the Senate failed to pass a bill that would have imposed sanctions aimed at to block. But the public may never know the details of the legislative victory, as pipeline advocates circumvent foreign lobbying disclosure laws.

President Joe Biden declared last week that the not-yet-operational gas pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, will not move forward if Russia invades Ukraine. Congress had previously instituted a series of prior sanctions aimed at stopping the project. Biden last year survey these sanctions under pressure from Germany, which is hungry for the cheap gas that Nord Stream will supply. In January, a bill proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would have imposed new penalties below 60 votes he needed. At the urging of the White House, most Democrats opposite This measure.

All of these political machinations reflect an American consensus that the pipeline, which is owned by Gazprom, a Russian state-controlled company, advantage Russia by allowing it to more effectively leverage its energy supplies to influence Western European states. But DC lobbyists who have spent the past few years fighting to block sanctions against Nord Stream argue that they are not working for Russia, but rather for private commercial companies. And they use this claim to keep key aspects of their advocacy work secret.

Legally, this is a complicated question, but the result is quite simple. Lobbyists working in Washington to advance a Russian foreign policy priority, which is closely tied to the Russian threat to invade Ukraine, operate in relative secrecy, despite US laws intended to make such foreign advocacy transparent, because these laws remain weak and easily circumvented.

BGR Government Affairs, a well-heeled lobbying boutique founded by former Ronald Reagan aide Ed Rogers; Roberti Global, a firm run by Vincent Roberti, a major Democratic donor; and McLarty Inbound, a company run by Richard Burt, whose Russian ties and work for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign attracted Warning of special counsel Robert Mueller, earn lobby fees in Washington for the pipeline. Claiming that their work is not for a foreign government, they avoided registering with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA. This law, which dates back to 1938, was drafted to ensure that agents promoting foreign interests in the United States do their job in a transparent manner. FARA requires registrants to publicly report all of their lobbying contacts with Congress and the executive branch, twice a year, as well as other details of their advocacy efforts.

But all three companies are instead registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which requires much less transparency. Rather than disclosing every lobbying contact with U.S. officials, as they would be required to do if registered under FARA, these companies need only file quarterly forms showing the fees they received and the name of the lobbyists on the account. They have to list the “specific lobbying issues” they have worked on, but the answers are still extremely general. The uniform description of BGR in its deposits is: “Issues related to the United States’ position towards the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.”

Given the attention the Nord Stream pipeline is receiving, this evasion represents a flagrant failure in lobbying disclosure laws, critics say. “When you have this international lobbying fight that rises to this level of prominence in American foreign policy, it’s critical that we have the higher level of transparency required by FARA,” said Ben Freeman, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft that studies foreign influence. “That’s why FARA exists.”

BGR, Roberti Global and McLarty all declined to detail their legal reasoning or comment on their work. But lobbying law experts say they are exploiting a loophole in FARA. They seem to be taking advantage of an exemption that applies to lobbying related to the trade or business of a foreign client. BGR and Roberti are registered as lobbyists for Nord Stream 2 AG, a company officially based in Switzerland. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, owns Nord Stream. But both companies say in public documents that Gazprom is only 38% owned by Russia. Thus, they claim to work for an independent commercial client, and not for the Kremlin. McLarty Inbound is registered separately like a lobbyist for five European companies that lent money to Nord Stream to finance the pipeline.

In contrast, lobbyists who oppose the Nord Stream pipeline are registered with FARA. Yorktown Solutions, which works for the Ukrainian Federation of Oil and Gas Industry Employers, has registered as a foreign agent for Ukraine, which Nord Stream would bypass. Ukraine is keen to maintain the revenue it derives from the gas that now passes through it en route to Western Europe. East Yorktown directed by Daniel Vajdich, a former assistant to Cruz. And press reports noted that Vajdich put pressure his former boss and other senators, who sponsored 2020 legislation to block the completion of Nord Stream. This might seem inappropriate to some people, but this is only public information as Yorktown has registered with FARA. Lobbyists on the other side of the issue have not, leaving it unclear what exactly they are doing to support the pipeline.

Even with this huge FARA loophole, some experts argue that pipeline lobbyists should probably register as foreign agents. the law a tissue said that companies can claim that they are exempt from FARA”alonefor “private, non-political activities in the course of trade or bona fide trading” of a foreign customer. The pipeline is the subject of high-profile congressional legislation and is embroiled in US-Russian talks aimed at stopping a war. Given this, “it’s hard to imagine that if you work for Nord Stream you don’t engage in political activity,” Freeman said.

In addition, FARA regulations state that companies cannot register under the less stringent Lobbying Disclosure Act instead of FARA if “a foreign government or foreign political party is the primary beneficiary” of their lobbying. If you think Russia will be the main beneficiary if Nord Stream starts pumping gas this year, then the companies should be registered with FARA.

But the big problem here, according to attorneys familiar with the law, is that FARA is dated, vaguely worded and difficult to enforce.

“He needs clarity,” said Amy Jeffress, an Arnold and Porter partner who works on FARA. “I think everyone agrees the statute is confusing and needs reform,” Jeffress said, citing consensus from a recent FARA conference.

Whether or not pipeline lobbyists, under the letter of the law, must register with FARA, they have little incentive to do so. Despite Mueller’s recent high-profile lawsuits involving FARA violations, charges for violating the law are relatively rare. This means that there is little case law defining its application. Prosecuting FARA violations also requires showing that the defendants knew they should have registered. But given the lack of clarity as to when the commercial exemption applies, deep-pocketed lobbyists can easily find lawyers who will give them notice that they don’t need to register, making pursuit almost impossible. And the DOJ’s FARA office can’t even impose fines on violators. All it can do is tell businesses to register. If that happens, companies can do it, retroactively, with no penalty for dragging their feet.

Mueller’s investigation seemed to cause a to augment in FARA records, and the FARA unit, in recent years, intensified enforcement efforts. But critics argue that until Congress gives FARA’s office the power to fine companies that don’t properly follow the law, lobbyists can continue to evade FARA without repercussions. And even companies that comply often fail to meet the requirements of the law, file regularly late forms and omitting their lobbying details.

The Trump-Russia scandal and focus on foreign influence efforts led to a series of FARA reform proposals in Congress. But, in part because of the partisan divide around that scandal, none have come close to enactment. Asked about Nord Stream’s lobbying, a spokesman for Chuck Grassley (Iowa) – the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee – quoted legislation the senator offered to strengthen the law. The bill includes a provision that would give the DOJ the power to impose civil penalties of up to $200,000 on companies that flout the law’s requirements. “For years, Senator Grassley has engaged in rigorous congressional oversight of FARA and advocated for changes to the law to close loopholes that foreign agents can too easily exploit,” the spokesperson said. speak, adding that Grassley’s proposal “would ensure the lobbying.” campaigns pushed by foreign interests are exposed to the American public and Congress.

The Ministry of Justice is also considering revise some FARA regulations without congressional assistance. But for now, the pro-Nord Stream lobbying campaign remains veiled. This opacity may in fact lead critics to overdo it the influence that Russian interests exert on Nord Stream. People familiar with the pipeline issue said Germany, through its embassy — rather than Russia and Nord Stream lobbyists — has been the pipeline’s most effective advocate in Washington. It was primarily Germany that persuaded the White House to push Democrats to sink Cruz’s sanctions bill last month, the sources said.

Since the start of 2020, Roberti Global said they had received more than $5 million, and BGR $1.6 million, for their lobbying for Nord Stream, Open Secrets recently reported. McLarty Inbound received more than $1.6 million over the same period for lobbying the Nord Stream pipeline. These pipeline lobbyists are surely telling their clients they did it Something to earn these fees. But exactly what is a secret.

About Michael S. Montanez

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