Lobby for Aliyev by Aliyev, 2005–2018

Authors: Suren Sargsyan, Aida Gevorgyan, Anahit Muradyan, Sedrak Mkrtchyan

Article full text goes after the infographic.

Printable Hi-Res File

This investigation aims to reveal the connections between Azerbaijan state bodies, commercial organizations tied to official Baku and US Lobbyists, and to show the amount of money spent on the promotion of Azerbaijan interests in the USA. Our investigation reveals the main goals they pursue — to demonstrate Azerbaijan as a democratic state, promote its Energy sector, achieve a favorable resolution to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and eliminate Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. Huge amount of data was analyzed to reveal the sophisticated net of connections involved in the lobbying process. Myriads of contracts were investigated, and traces of millions of dollars spent on lobbying were found. However, seeing the manipulations committed, facts of intentional and skillful hiding of the sums from the contracts, and using third party companies as mediators, we believe, that the obtained information about the Azerbaijan’s expenditure is only a small part of the real amount. The research will dwell on the following issues: The contracts worth millions, Pro-Azerbaijan rhetoric in US mass media, Links to US Administration.

The contracts worth millions

This organization was founded by Anar Mammadov, Azerbaijan tycoon, son of Azerbaijan Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov.

James Fabiani, Founder of Fabiani & Company. Courtesy: www.fabiani-co.com

Mammadov is the one, who bought rights to use D. Trump’s name to build still unfinished Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku. In pursuance of 22 lobbying reports, more than $11 million were spent on Fabiani & Company to lobby Azerbaijan interests in US, which shares same office with the Alliance in DC. No less impressive is the money spent on another lobbying company — Carpino & Associates, which equals $2 million. Despite being this active, the fate of the Azerbaijan America Alliance became rather vague following the disgraceful incident in 2016 with Dan Burton, a respected Republican congressman with 30 years of experience who resigned his post as chairman of the Azerbaijan America Alliance after not being paid for a whole year.

This state body has been cooperating with significant number of US lobbying firms, spending millions of dollars.

Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta Group

One of them is Podesta Group, with the expenditure of more than $2.5 million. This firm, that had been actively advancing Azerbaijani agenda in US, ceased to exist at the end of 2017 because of R. Mueller’s investigation. During the last two years the Embassy of Azerbaijan has also been intensively collaborating with BGR Government Affairs LLC, another US lobbying firm, spending approximately $1 million.

This consortium is based in Baku, having an office in Zug, Switzerland. Strangely enough, there is a huge lack of information concerning it.

Elkhan Suleymanov, PACE member in 2001–2018

However, records from the Azerbaijan Laundromat show the organization was financed by two offshore companies — Metastar Invest and Hilux Services — and its office is situated in the same building in Baku, as does the pro-regime organization in Baku under the presidency of Elkhan Suleymanov (Azerbaijan MP, 2001–2018 member of PACE, was involved in corruption scandal-Caviar diplomacy).These two organizations are highly likely to be working conjointly. The absence of official documentation of their connection is the dispensable disclosure of their relationship under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Dr. Lloyd R. (Bob) Lawrence, Jr. is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Bob Lawrence & Associates

For the past 14 years the cooperation of Renaissance has been limited to Bob Lawrence and Associates (BL&A)-a lobbying firm in the USA, which received $5,144,000. Between 2008 and 2016, BL&A’s president Bob Lawrence was annually invited to make recommendations concerning foreign aid budgets to Azerbaijan and Armenia before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Matters. In its turn, this firm paid $280,000 to Solomon P. Ortiz Holding LLC. Its founder, Solomon Ortiz, is the co-founder of Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus (CAC) (63 members in 2014). Prominently, in 2013, 10 members of Congress, the overwhelming majority of which were members of CAC, and 32 staff members travelled to Baku to attend “the USA-Azerbaijan: Vision for the Future ” Conference, where they received many gifts, such as rugs, tea sets, scarves and jewelry valued at $2.5–10 thousand.The state-owned oil company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) secretly funded an all-expenses-paid trip to a conference in Baku through Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE) and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ). House members also had meetings with the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, various Azeri government officials, and officials from the SOCAR. This was stated in the report prepared by the Committee on Ethics of the House of Representatives of the USA.

Another prominent lobbyist, John McGregor (Ortiz’s long-time advisor, consultant at BL&A), was also involved in CAC’s development. As an individual lobbyist, he received $160,000 from Renaissance Association Baku between 2009–2012. Meanwhile, his lobbying firm, McGregor Group LLC, received much more-$560,000 between 2012–2016 to put Azerbaijan in a good light in the USA.

Pro-Azerbaijan rhetoric in US mass media

The one, who had a great impact on Azerbaijani agenda promotion in US mass media is Brenda Shaffer.

Brenda Shaffer in Baku, Azerbaijan

The major turning point in her career happened in 2001, when she entered Congress to testify before the House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations as the director of the Caspian Studies Program (CSP). However, lawmakers were unaware of the fact that CSP was funded with $1 million grant by the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce. In her testimony Shaffer urged to repeal Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. As an energy security expert, she has made a huge contribution to the propaganda of the Southern Gas Corridor Project, an ambitious energy initiative. This woman, who is the author of many articles in well-known US mass media, did not inform the editors and the readers that she was an advisor to SOCAR (info was revealed, when media obtained her SOCAR business card in 2014). Consequently, it comes as no surprise that the articles published by B. Shaffer have pronounced pro-Azerbaijan character. The renowned media she was a contributor in include The Washington Post, The New York Times, Atlantic Council, Foreign Affairs.

Jason Katz, head of Tool Shed

Another lobbyist, who strongly promoted Azerbaijan interests in US media is Jason Katz, whose lobbying firm-Tool Shed Group-received around $250,000 from General Consulate of Azerbaijan in the US. It goes without saying, that the following citations speak of the biased nature of the articles written by J. Katz:

‘’Since the nation’s independence, Azerbaijan has stood squarely with the West… bypassing Russia and Iran, both nations with aims to usurp Western nations and their values and freedoms…Azerbaijan is majority-Muslim, yet staunchly secular and notably tolerant of its many ethnicities, religions, etc…The U.S. can learn much from a nation like Azerbaijan and in particular its relationship with Israel’’

The Hill

“What about the Azerbaijanis who, thankfully for them, largely chart their own path, but cast their lot with the U.S. and the West only to be attacked by U.S. sponsored media and the State Department for closing radical mosques and other perceived “abuses.” This while support is shown for Armenia, a radical and failed nation it its own right, but one that occupies part of Azerbaijan in a blatant violation of basic rules of international law?”

The Times of Israel

Solomon Ortiz, whose lobbying activity for Azerbaijan is thoroughly discussed above, is another contributor in US media, where he whitewashes Azerbaijan’s image in US. This can be proved with the following lines from his article published in the Huffington Post:

‘’Our alliance with Azerbaijan will be the key to the success of the United States in the region. The Azeris have shown their friendship on the world stage. The success of this tiny but important democracy is fundamental to security problems, both in the United States and in the world’’

On the other hand, the international indexes show us another picture, which questions the validity of the claim, that Azerbaijan is a democratic state. According to the latest report of the Freedom House index Azerbaijan’s aggregated score is 12 out of 100 (0=Least Free, 100=Most Free). Moreover, its rating is deteriorating year by year: Freedom in the world 2016–16 out of 100, 2017–14/100, 2018–12/100. The same pattern can be traced in another index- Reporters Without Borders. If in 2013 Azerbaijan was ranked 156 out of 180, today it is 163 out of 180. Thus, the stance of many reliable indexes totally contradicts the exaggerated claims of pro-Azerbaijan lobbyists.

Links to US Administration

The lobbyists and lobbying companies hired by Azerbaijan are often closely connected with former and present US Administration.

Noam Neusner (co-founder) was president George W. Bush administration official, his liaison to the U.S. Jewish community from 2002 through 2005, spokesperson at Hillel International (the largest Jewish campus organization in the world). It is worth mentioning, that he was also employed by the Turkish Government to lobby the American Jewish Community and Congress to deny the Armenian Genocide (through 2010).

Jay K. Footlik (founding president)- has been a Special Assistant to President Clinton, served as president’s liaison to the American Jewish Community, a senior aide and advisor to Senator John Kerry in 2004 presidential campaign.

(ceased to exist at the end of 2017)

Tony Podesta is the president of Podesta Group Inc. His brother John Podesta served as White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton from 1998- 2001 and as a Counselor to President Barack Obama from 2014–2015.

Elana Broitman (former shareholder 2015–2016) signed the agreement with Association for Civil Society Development in Azerbaijan (ACSDA)- run by Elkhan Suleymanov. Broitman worked in Clinton’s administration.

According to the official web-site of this organization, among the members of the group’s “Honorary Council of Advisors” are

Henry Kissinger — US Secretary of State under US presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford,

Zbigniew Brzezinski (former member) — US National Security Advisor under president Jimmy Carter,

James A. Baker III — US Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff under president Ronald Reagan,

Brent Scowcroft — United States National Security Advisor under US presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush,

John H. Sununu — White House Chief of Staff under president George H. W. Bush.

Robert (Bob) Wood (President of BGR Group Government Affairs division who will become Chief Executive of BGR Group starting next year). He was chief of staff at the Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.

Brian Ballard (president) was Trump’s lobbyist in Florida. He was one of the top fundraisers in the country for Trump’s campaign and continues to raise millions for his reelection campaign.

Christopher Harvin (co-founder)- 2001–2009 served in White House, senior advisor/advance lead for Donald J. Trump for President Inc.

Final Remarks

  • More than $27,000,000 spent on lobbying,
  • Contracts with 3 out of 10 top lobbying firms of 2017–2018 (Podesta Group, Greenberg Traurig, Ballard Partners),
  • Deliberate omission of the registration of the amount of money as FARA requires,
  • More sophisticated and hardly identifiable schemes.

Sources

  1. https://ethics.house.gov/sites/ethics.house.gov/files/In%20The%20Matter%20of%20Officially-Connected%20Travel%20by%20House%20Members%20to%20Azerbaijan%20in%202013.pdf
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2017/10/30/azerbaijani-aggression-shouldnt-be-rewarded-with-u-s-aid/#ab038af33f50
  3. https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/us-lobbying-firm-launders-azerbaijans-reputation
  4. https://www.usacc.org/about-us/leadership/honorary-council-of-advisors.html
  5. https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2015/06/22/profile-of-an-undercover-lobbyist-for-azerbaijan.en.html
  6. https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Shaffer_Testimony1.pdf
  7. https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/198445-us-can-learn-from-azerbaijan
  8. https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-uss-moment-of-truth-stand-with-our-friends-or-fall-to-our-enemies/
  9. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/solomon-ortiz/post_3462_b_1572090.html
  10. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/azerbaijan
  11. https://rsf.org/en/azerbaijan
  12. https://anca.org/press-release/turkey-hires-former-bush-administration-official-to-shore-up-rifts-with-jewish-american-groups-fight-armenian-genocide-recognit/
  13. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2018/08/foreign-interests-fara-lobby-watch-exclusive/

Links

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Sedrak Mkrtchyan

Data-Journalist / Infographer / Graphic Designer. PanArmenian Media Group/Design Dept Head; ArmeniaTV News/Graphics Team Lead; Infographics.am / Founder-CEO