BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Over the years, I have written countless articles describing the activities of U.S. lobbying firms hired by Turkey and Azerbaijan for millions of dollars. Fortunately, no matter how much money these countries spend on lobbying, they are unable to whitewash their expansionist and undemocratic actions. After the departure of Erdogan’s bosom buddy Trump, the political landscape has become bleaker in Washington for Turkey with Pres. Biden’s reaffirmation of his commitment to uphold the sanctions against Turkey and his acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide.
Ben Freeman and his team of researchers at the Washington-based Center for International Policy published a comprehensive 30-page analysis last month titled: “Turkey’s Lobby in the United States.” The report showed that it is simply impossible for Turkey to be a trusted U.S. partner, while cozying up to Russia, NATO’s rival. The reprehensible behavior of authoritarian wannabe Sultan Erdogan has made him a pariah, both at home and abroad!
The report revealed in great detail “the story of how Turkey’s agents attempted –and largely failed — to shift U.S. stances” on several highly controversial Turkish policies on foreign and domestic matters.”
The report’s Executive Summary stated that the researchers “analyzed every Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) document filed by organizations registered to work on behalf of Turkish clients in 2020. From these documents, we recorded every single ‘political activity’ done for those clients, every campaign contribution mentioned in these FARA filings, every piece of ‘informational material’ distributed on Turkey’s behalf, and every dollar these organizations reported receiving from their Turkish clients.”
Here are the key findings of the report:
• 11 [U.S. lobbying] organizations [were paid $5 million to register] under FARA to work on Turkey’s behalf in 2020;
• Those organizations reported making 2,319 contacts on behalf of their Turkish clients;
• 568 [political] campaign contributions, totaling $526,177, were made by those firms and their registered foreign agents;
One Senator received a campaign contribution from a firm that had contacted her office on Turkey’s behalf that same day.
Among the five most active U.S. firms hired by Turkey were: Mercury Public Affairs and Greenberg Traurig both of which ended their contracts with Turkey in October 2020, as a result of pressure from Armenian-Americans during last year’s attack on Artsakh by Azerbaijan and Turkey. The other three firms are: Venable, LB International Solutions, and Capital Counsel. The latter also terminated its contract with the Turkish government in April 2021. Nevertheless, as of September 2021, there are still 10 U.S. lobbying firms hired by Turkey.
The report broke down the number of contacts made by these lobbying firms in 2020: House of Representatives (1044); Senate (657); media (377); think tanks (83); and businesses (37). They mostly contacted the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Armed Services. The most contacted members of Congress were: Cong. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio); Sen, Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi); and Sen. Todd Young (R-Indiana). Among the most contacted media members were: The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal. The public relations professionals on Turkey’s payroll submitted to newspapers pitches for stories, op-eds and letters to the editor. Four of the think tanks contacted by Turkish agents received funding from the Turkish government or Turkey-related non-governmental organizations: the Brookings Institution and the German Marshall Fund of the United States received funding from the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD); the Center for Strategic and International Studies received at least $100,000 from the Turkish government in 2019; and the Center for American Progress received funding from the Centre for Applied Turkey Studies (CATS).
Despite intense lobbying efforts by Turkey, Congress imposed sanctions on that country for purchasing the Russian S-400 air defense system, blocked the sale of advance U.S. F-35 military jets, and placed a hold on all major arms sales to Turkey. In addition, the United States blocked Turkey’s planned sale of $1.5 billion worth of helicopters to Pakistan.
In 2020, $156,000 out of $526,000 campaign contributions made by the lobbying firms representing Turkey went to Political Campaigns Committees, making it impossible to know which political candidate got how much money. The top five recipients of some of the remaining $370,000 were: $28,000 to Cong. Vern Buchanan (R-Florida); $10,600 to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia); $9,500 to Cong. Kevin McCarthy (R-California); $9,100 to Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan); and $6,700 to failed Senatorial Democratic candidate of Iowa Theresa Greenfield. The report noted that many of the top recipients of contributions from firms representing Turkey were also amongst the most contacted by Turkey’s lobbyists.
The report also identified one example of “pay to play” politics: “In at least one case, the contribution and contact on behalf of Turkey occurred on exactly the same day. On March 3, 2020 Venable foreign agent and former Member of Congress, Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), spoke with Sen. Jean Shaheen’s (D-New Hampshire) scheduler to request a meeting with the Senator. That same day Venable reported that one of its foreign agents made a $1,000 contribution to Shaheen’s campaign.”
Importantly, the report concluded that “In 2020, the Turkey lobby in America fought a number of major battles and, in nearly every instance, lost. Turkey remains sanctioned as a result of the S-400 purchase. [Dissident Turkish cleric] Fethullah Gulen hasn’t been extradited to Turkey and continues to reside in Pennsylvania. And, the U.S. continues to support Kurdish fighters in Syria.” For the foreseeable future, the Turkish government’s “influence in America will likely remain marginal, at best.” Meanwhile, Turkey continues to waste millions of dollars hiring useless lobbyists in Washington, while millions of Turkish citizens are unemployed and on the verge of starvation.
The report cautioned, however, that it has covered only “one part of Turkey’s influence in the U.S. This report, for example, does not address the influence of the Turkish Heritage Organization, a non-profit convener that regularly hosts events providing a platform for Turkish officials in the U.S. Nor does it discuss illicit influence operations, such as the work Michael Flynn did on Turkey’s behalf. This analysis of just one part of Turkey’s influence in America — their FARA registrants — is telling nonetheless.”
While Armenian-Americans do not have influential lobbying firms working on their behalf in Washington, they have a large number of voters and contributors in several key states that elected officials pay more attention to rather than foreign agents hired by Turkey. No amount of lobbying can whitewash a lie or exonerate the corrupt and authoritarian Turkish regime.