THE INFLUENCE GAME: Problems For Egypt's Brokers

WASHINGTON (AP) - Three political veterans turned prominent Washington lobbyists have looked out for Egypt's interests in Washington for years, helping secure billions in U.S. aid and batting down an attempt by Congress last year to urge the Mideast nation toward a more open and democratic political system. With Egypt's government under siege, its lobbyists may face a harder time.

Washington's well-connected Egypt hands are among a line of lobbying specialists known as "foreign agents." They cultivate favor and aid on behalf of foreign governments, buttonholing lawmakers and squiring visiting dignitaries and military leaders on trips to Capitol Hill, government offices and think tanks. Scuttling the nonbinding Senate resolution in November was among their notable successes.

Congress may revive the tough pro-democracy resolution, Sen. John McCain said Thursday. The Arizona Republican told The Associated Press he was consulting with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., about sponsoring a new resolution pressing Egypt to move quickly on promised reforms. A new draft was being readied Thursday.

McCain was a co-sponsor of the previous resolution, which was killed in part by a lobbying blitz paid for by President Hosni Mubarak's government. He said he expects a new resolution would have an improved chance of passage because of the violence sweeping through Cairo and the fact that Egypt's influential lobbyists now represent a regime condemned by the country's masses.

"I don't think we'll see the same level of pushback," McCain said.

The trio of political veterans - former Republican Rep. Bob Livingston, former Democratic Rep. Toby Moffett and longtime lobbyist Tony Podesta - work separately for Egypt through their own firms and together under a co-joined company that earns more than $1 million a year alone from Cairo, according to federal documents.

The Senate resolution called for "supporting democracy, human rights and civil liberties in Egypt." Introduced last July after the President Egyptian government cracked down hard on internal dissent, the resolution sponsored by McCain and then-Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., gathered bipartisan support from more than a dozen colleagues.

But the resolution quickly ran into a lobbying counteroffensive. Federal lobbying documents detail at least a dozen contacts between Podesta's lobbying outfit, the Podesta Group Inc., and legislators in August and September. Missi Tessier, a spokeswoman for the Podesta Group, deferred to Egypt's embassy in Washington, which did not reply to an e-mail request for comment.

"I kept hearing from people that the Egyptians had hired the most powerful lobbyists in town and were fighting hard," McCain said Thursday.

Administration unease and doubts from other key senators also helped stall the resolution until a congressional recess, and a last-ditch attempt to revive it during the lame-duck session in November ran into similar opposition. Podesta's lobbyists again contacted another dozen congressional offices in mid-November before holds placed by two anonymous senators finally scuttled the resolution.

"They're not the only reason it lost, but they clearly were a force," McInerney said.

McCain said he was told by colleagues that the forces against his resolution had "a whole line of senators in line to place holds if they were needed. The odds were clearly against us."

"I don't know what effect it might have had but it would have at least put Congress on record of supporting democracy there," McCain added. "And it might have helped our credibility now with the opposition and maybe put some pressure to bear on Mubarak to have a more open process."

Even before the Egyptian capital convulsed in violence this week between supporters of Mubarak and anti-government protesters, Egypt's American agents in Washington were quietly reaching out to Capitol Hill and Obama administration figures and other influential policy leaders.

The three lobbyists did not respond Wednesday to inquiries about their roles, but Moffett earlier told The Washington Post: "I think our whole team, Egyptian and American, is feeling much better about the way in which that message about the critical relationship is getting out there." He also raised concern about "what would happen if Egypt flipped? It would not be a very pretty thing for the United States or Israel or anyone else." And he added that it is "an honor to serve Egypt" and that none of the country's lobbyists have any intention of severing ties with the Mubarak government.

Others familiar with Egypt's influence efforts said the firms have been carefully touching base with policymakers and legislators during the week-old confrontation between Egyptian protesters and Mubarak and his inner circle.

"What they're likely trying to do now is make sure both sides have a good understanding of what the other side is thinking," said Graeme Bannerman, a scholar at the Middle East Institute who lobbied for the Egyptian government from 1990 until 2007, and who has consulted with U.S. diplomats in recent days.

Other Washington analysts acquainted with the buffer role long played by Egypt's lobbyists say they are always well aware of whom they work for and who pays them. "They might like to portray themselves as honest brokers but it's hard for me to see them in that role at this critical point," said Stephen McInerney, director of the non-partisan Project on Middle East Democracy.

Over the past several years, the U.S. has provided Egypt about $1.5 billion annually in aid - most of it military - and more than $60 billion in total since the late 1970s. American largess ranges from the hulking Abrams M-1 tanks that now occupy Tahrir Square in central Cairo to multimillion-dollar preservation projects to save crumbling monuments on the banks of the Nile River.

The three lobbyists joined forces in August 2007, creating the PLM Group to lobby on behalf of Egypt. Since then their three private lobbying shops have also taken on additional interest work on behalf of Egypt's government, according to Justice Department Foreign Agents Registration records.

Livingston is a former Louisiana congressman who was on the verge of replacing Newt Gingrich as House speaker in 1998, only to resign himself because of allegations of extramarital affairs. Moffett, a former aide to consumer advocate Ralph Nader, was a Democratic House member from Connecticut from 1975 to 1983 and has mostly worked as a lobbyist since he left the Hill. Podesta runs a lobbying shop that he co-founded in 1988 with his brother, John, who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and now runs the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress think tank.

When a delegation of senior Egyptian military officials visited Washington last April, lobbyists for the Livingston Group guided them in more than 100 meetings with U.S. officials and policy experts. Livingston himself squired the military officials to a mass lunch with U.S. congressmen and gathered policy experts.

Calls to Livingston's office were not returned, but Bannerman, a State Department and Hill veteran who oversaw similar receptions over the years, described the events as "the annual military cooperation meetings. They discuss weapons sales, their working relationship. It's a good will gesture, heavily designed to explain to Congress about their working relationship with the U.S. military."

The three lobbyists' prominence as agents for the besieged Mubarak government has made them lightning rods in recent days for American backers of Egypt's budding pro-democracy movement. Activists on Twitter and several other websites and blogs have begun targeting the three lobbyists, publicly posting their firms' e-mail addresses.

The Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based public interest group that tracks money and lobbying, published a detailed list of the three lobbyists' dealings on behalf of Egypt to "shed more light on the fact that there's a robust lobbying industry on behalf of foreign governments," said the group's editorial director, Bill Allison.

The foundation documented more than 360 contacts between Egyptian officials and U.S. lawmakers, their staffs, government and military officials and policy experts in the first seven months of 2010.

"Egypt gets billions of dollars of aid and much of it is funneled back into the U.S. defense industry," Allison said. "The lobbyists are trying to preserve that relationship."WASHINGTON (AP) - Three political veterans turned prominent Washington lobbyists have looked out for Egypt's interests in Washington for years, helping secure billions in U.S. aid and batting down an attempt by Congress last year to urge the Mideast nation toward a more open and democratic political system. With Egypt's government under siege, its lobbyists may face a harder time.

Washington's well-connected Egypt hands are among a line of lobbying specialists known as "foreign agents." They cultivate favor and aid on behalf of foreign governments, buttonholing lawmakers and squiring visiting dignitaries and military leaders on trips to Capitol Hill, government offices and think tanks. Scuttling the nonbinding Senate resolution in November was among their notable successes.

Congress may revive the tough pro-democracy resolution, Sen. John McCain said Thursday. The Arizona Republican told The Associated Press he was consulting with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., about sponsoring a new resolution pressing Egypt to move quickly on promised reforms. A new draft was being readied Thursday.

McCain was a co-sponsor of the previous resolution, which was killed in part by a lobbying blitz paid for by President Hosni Mubarak's government. He said he expects a new resolution would have an improved chance of passage because of the violence sweeping through Cairo and the fact that Egypt's influential lobbyists now represent a regime condemned by the country's masses.

"I don't think we'll see the same level of pushback," McCain said.

The trio of political veterans - former Republican Rep. Bob Livingston, former Democratic Rep. Toby Moffett and longtime lobbyist Tony Podesta - work separately for Egypt through their own firms and together under a co-joined company that earns more than $1 million a year alone from Cairo, according to federal documents.

The Senate resolution called for "supporting democracy, human rights and civil liberties in Egypt." Introduced last July after the President Egyptian government cracked down hard on internal dissent, the resolution sponsored by McCain and then-Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., gathered bipartisan support from more than a dozen colleagues.

But the resolution quickly ran into a lobbying counteroffensive. Federal lobbying documents detail at least a dozen contacts between Podesta's lobbying outfit, the Podesta Group Inc., and legislators in August and September. Missi Tessier, a spokeswoman for the Podesta Group, deferred to Egypt's embassy in Washington, which did not reply to an e-mail request for comment.

"I kept hearing from people that the Egyptians had hired the most powerful lobbyists in town and were fighting hard," McCain said Thursday.

Administration unease and doubts from other key senators also helped stall the resolution until a congressional recess, and a last-ditch attempt to revive it during the lame-duck session in November ran into similar opposition. Podesta's lobbyists again contacted another dozen congressional offices in mid-November before holds placed by two anonymous senators finally scuttled the resolution.

"They're not the only reason it lost, but they clearly were a force," McInerney said.

McCain said he was told by colleagues that the forces against his resolution had "a whole line of senators in line to place holds if they were needed. The odds were clearly against us."

"I don't know what effect it might have had but it would have at least put Congress on record of supporting democracy there," McCain added. "And it might have helped our credibility now with the opposition and maybe put some pressure to bear on Mubarak to have a more open process."

Even before the Egyptian capital convulsed in violence this week between supporters of Mubarak and anti-government protesters, Egypt's American agents in Washington were quietly reaching out to Capitol Hill and Obama administration figures and other influential policy leaders.

The three lobbyists did not respond Wednesday to inquiries about their roles, but Moffett earlier told The Washington Post: "I think our whole team, Egyptian and American, is feeling much better about the way in which that message about the critical relationship is getting out there." He also raised concern about "what would happen if Egypt flipped? It would not be a very pretty thing for the United States or Israel or anyone else." And he added that it is "an honor to serve Egypt" and that none of the country's lobbyists have any intention of severing ties with the Mubarak government.

Others familiar with Egypt's influence efforts said the firms have been carefully touching base with policymakers and legislators during the week-old confrontation between Egyptian protesters and Mubarak and his inner circle.

"What they're likely trying to do now is make sure both sides have a good understanding of what the other side is thinking," said Graeme Bannerman, a scholar at the Middle East Institute who lobbied for the Egyptian government from 1990 until 2007, and who has consulted with U.S. diplomats in recent days.

Other Washington analysts acquainted with the buffer role long played by Egypt's lobbyists say they are always well aware of whom they work for and who pays them. "They might like to portray themselves as honest brokers but it's hard for me to see them in that role at this critical point," said Stephen McInerney, director of the non-partisan Project on Middle East Democracy.

Over the past several years, the U.S. has provided Egypt about $1.5 billion annually in aid - most of it military - and more than $60 billion in total since the late 1970s. American largess ranges from the hulking Abrams M-1 tanks that now occupy Tahrir Square in central Cairo to multimillion-dollar preservation projects to save crumbling monuments on the banks of the Nile River.

The three lobbyists joined forces in August 2007, creating the PLM Group to lobby on behalf of Egypt. Since then their three private lobbying shops have also taken on additional interest work on behalf of Egypt's government, according to Justice Department Foreign Agents Registration records.

Livingston is a former Louisiana congressman who was on the verge of replacing Newt Gingrich as House speaker in 1998, only to resign himself because of allegations of extramarital affairs. Moffett, a former aide to consumer advocate Ralph Nader, was a Democratic House member from Connecticut from 1975 to 1983 and has mostly worked as a lobbyist since he left the Hill. Podesta runs a lobbying shop that he co-founded in 1988 with his brother, John, who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and now runs the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress think tank.

When a delegation of senior Egyptian military officials visited Washington last April, lobbyists for the Livingston Group guided them in more than 100 meetings with U.S. officials and policy experts. Livingston himself squired the military officials to a mass lunch with U.S. congressmen and gathered policy experts.

Calls to Livingston's office were not returned, but Bannerman, a State Department and Hill veteran who oversaw similar receptions over the years, described the events as "the annual military cooperation meetings. They discuss weapons sales, their working relationship. It's a good will gesture, heavily designed to explain to Congress about their working relationship with the U.S. military."

The three lobbyists' prominence as agents for the besieged Mubarak government has made them lightning rods in recent days for American backers of Egypt's budding pro-democracy movement. Activists on Twitter and several other websites and blogs have begun targeting the three lobbyists, publicly posting their firms' e-mail addresses.

The Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based public interest group that tracks money and lobbying, published a detailed list of the three lobbyists' dealings on behalf of Egypt to "shed more light on the fact that there's a robust lobbying industry on behalf of foreign governments," said the group's editorial director, Bill Allison.

The foundation documented more than 360 contacts between Egyptian officials and U.S. lawmakers, their staffs, government and military officials and policy experts in the first seven months of 2010.

"Egypt gets billions of dollars of aid and much of it is funneled back into the U.S. defense industry," Allison said. "The lobbyists are trying to preserve that relationship."
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