DATAPOINTS

For government, royal court and PIF

$31.5 Million

LOBBYING SPEND (2018)

14

LOBBYING/PR FIRMS

90

REGISTERED AGENTS

AL-MONITOR
LOBBYING RANK

#14 (tie)

Hogan Lovells
(for Saudi Arabia)

Hired: 2007
2018 fees: $2.4 million

NEW Supplemental
(March 1, 2019 – Aug. 31, 2019)

Saudi Arabia paid Hogan Lovells $330,000 in the six-month period ending Aug. 31. Lobbyists for the firm met with Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., July 15 and 22, and with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., July 26. They also spoke with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on the phone June 13 and Rep. Michael Gallagher, R-Wisc., July 29.

Law Office of David B. Kultgen
(for Saudi Ministry of Energy / King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy)

Hired: Feb. 2018
2018 fees: $537,000

NEW Supplemental
(March 1, 2019 – Aug. 21, 2019)

Fees: $146,000

The Law Office of David B. Kultgen received $146,000 from Saudi Arabia’s Energy Ministry in compensation and reimbursements in the six months through August. Kultgen told the Justice Department that he provided “legal advice and support in connection with the Saudi National Atomic Energy Project,” including Riyadh’s quest for a civil nuclear deal with the Donald Trump administration as well as other energy issues unrelated to the United States.

Qorvis Communications
(for Saudi Arabia & Muslim World League)

Hired: 2001
2018 fees: $17.7 million

NEW Registered agent
Oliver Corbishley

Oliver Corbishley, an account executive at Qorvis Communications, is now representing Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Muslim World League. The league is based in Mecca and receives funding from Saudi Arabia.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
(for Saudi Energy Ministry/the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy)

Hired: Feb. 2018
2018 fees: $1.9 million

NEW Supplemental
(Feb. 1, 2019 – July 31, 2019)

Fees: None

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman did not report any payments from Saudi Arabia’s Energy Ministry/the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in the six-month period ending July 31.

    The Nickles Group
    Rose Law Group
    • Hired: 2019  
    • Latest Filing  
    • Registered agents

      • Evan Bolick
      • Thomas Galvin
      • Court ​Rich
        Co-founder, senior partner and director
      • Jordan ​Rose
        Co-founder and president

Khashoggi killing cripples $30 million Saudi lobbying blitz

Editor

Julian Pecquet

@JPecquet_ALM

jpecquet@al-monitor.com
bookmark

Julian Pecquet is the Washington Editor for Al-Monitor.

Posted: September 11, 2019

Saudi Arabia broke new records for lobbying spending last year only to suffer its worst reputational setback since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

All told, the Saudi government, royal court and public companies spent almost $32 million on lobbyists and public relations in 2018 to keep the pressure on regional foes Iran and Qatar and promote the country’s Vision 2030 of social reform and economic modernization. The highly publicized murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October has instead created a self-inflicted PR crisis that continues to plague bilateral relations a year later.

Under pressure from Congress, the Donald Trump administration slapped sanctions on 17 Saudi officials in November. Yemen war opponents seized on Riyadh’s diminished standing to try to limit arms sales and other US support for the Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthis. Meanwhile, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top business leaders bailed on Riyadh’s October 2018 “Davos in the Desert” investment conference.

Paradoxically, Saudi Arabia’s massive lobbying army has atrophied at a time when it’s needed the most.

At least six firms abandoned Riyadh in the immediate aftermath of the Khashoggi scandal: BGR; the Harbour Group; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Gladstone Place Partners; and Glover Park and its subcontractor, CGCN. Together the firms accounted for $3 million in Saudi lobbying spending in 2018, or almost 10% of the total.

In another blow, the pro-Riyadh Arabia Foundation think tank shuttered its doors this summer after just two years in operation amid a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by its former communications director. At the same time, Saudi critics have ramped up their own efforts, with the advocacy group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a Khashoggi brainchild, hiring law firm Kilpatrick Townsend Stockton to lobby Congress on “advancing democracy in the Middle East” on behalf of the slain journalist’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. (The firm reported $50,000 in payments in the first quarter of 2019.)

Despite the backlash, Saudi Arabia retains a hefty lobbying and public relations force in Washington, with 10 firms still working for various ministries. The influence campaign is dominated by Qorvis/MSLGroup, which has represented the kingdom since 2002 and brought in a whopping $17.7 million in the days and weeks after Khashoggi’s murder after last reporting fee payments in December 2016.

Riyadh’s strategic partnership with the United States against Iran — and its thirst for costly US weapons — have helped mitigate some of the fallout. Trump successfully vetoed congressional efforts to block arms sales, while giving the powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, a pass on sanctions.

Meanwhile, a monthslong lobbying push by the Ministry of Energy paid off earlier this year when US Energy Secretary Rick Perry approved transfers of nuclear power technology and assistance. The Saudi ministry hired King & Spalding, Pillsbury, Gowling WLG and the law offices of David B. Kultgen in early 2018 to help develop a commercial nuclear program by the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy. (The four firms were paid a combined $3.4 million last year.)

The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) has sought to move beyond the Khashoggi controversy by stepping up its US influence operations. The $320 billion fund hired KARV Communications for $120,000 per month this January for the express purpose of creating distance between the PIF and the embattled crown prince. And NEOM, the PIF-owned company building a futuristic city in the Saudi desert, signed a $2.1 million contract with Teneo Strategy in June to build support for the mammoth project.

HIGHLIGHTS

Main lobbying firm:
Qorvis Communications

 

 

$31.5 million

Total lobbying and PR spending for 2018

 

 

WINS
  • Crown prince avoids sanctions in Khashoggi death
  • Trump overrules Congress on arms sales prohibition
  • US shares civilian nuclear technology
LOSSES
  • US sanctions Saudi officials
  • Congress seeks to end Yemen war
  • Lobby firms abandon Riyadh

image-from-the-document-manager