Lobbying

Hillary Clinton, The Podesta Group, and The Job of Making Ugly Regimes Look Good

|

Yesterday, The Huffington Post published an article featuring the hiding-in-plain-sight news that the Podesta Group — the lobbying and public affairs firm co-founded by former Bill Clinton administration Chief of Staff/current Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which is still run by his brother Tony Podesta — has been receiving monthly payments of $140,000 to whitewash the image of Saudi Arabia's government through lobbying and public relations manuevering.

The article also notes that Tony Podesta's own name is registered on the Saudi account in the required Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) paperwork, as well as the fact that Tony is a major donor bundler and financial contributor to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

The point of the piece is to stoke outrage that "while one brother runs the campaign, the other brother funds it with earnings that come, in part, from the Saudis," a nominal U.S. ally, "that beheads nonviolent dissidents, uses torture to extract forced confessions, doesn't allow women to drive, and bombs schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods in neighboring Yemen."

The Saudi government brought the Podesta Group on to its payroll in 2015 to help rehabilitate the Kingdom's image in the American media and Congress, after a growing backlash over the Saudis' responsibility for the high civilian death toll in Yemen, as well as the international outrage over the imprisonment and flogging of a liberal political blogger for "insulting Islam." Among the Podesta Group's accomplishments was providing a Saudi commentator to speak to the New York Times to defend the regime's actions.

We're not here.
Kremlin.ru

Not discussed in the HuffPo article is the Podesta Group's work on behalf of a group representing the interests of the Ukrainian government during the administration of now-exiled former President Viktor Yanukovych, who now resides in Russia after being deposed following a murderous crackdown on civilian protesters in the winter of 2013-2014 and allegations of widespread corruption.

Despite being publicly available information for some time, the Yanukovych-Podesta Group connection was thrust back into the spotlight last week after it was revealed that Donald Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort's firm did covert work for Yanukovych's pro-Kremlin Party of Regions and helped steered two firms — Mercury and the Podesta Group — to a shadowy Brussels-based firm called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU), which contracted both firms to lobby in the U.S. on its behalf.

The EFCMU, it turns out, was a barely-veiled front group for the Party of Regions.

The revelation led to Manafort's swift resignation from Trump's campaign. Neither Manafort nor any representative from Mercury or the Podesta Group registered their work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, but instead did so under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Lobbyists who fail to register under FARA when representing a foreign government, political party, or politician are potentially subject to felony prosecution, but all parties involved are claiming they didn't know the ECFMU wasn't a legitmiately independent entity.

But Podesta Group CEO Kimberley Fritts was quoted by Politico in August as saying the ECFMU had provided a written statement at the beginning of their professional relationship that "none of the activities of the Centre are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed or subsidized in whole or in part by a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party." Fritts added that the Podesta Group had retained an outside legal firm to investigate whether or not they had been duped by the ECFMU and that they were considering litigation against the Centre, which no longer has an online presence and appears to be inactive.

Perhaps the Podesta Group lacks access to Google, because when the Los Angeles Times reported in 2012 on the ECFMU's $200,000 contract with the Podesta Group, the Times described the ECFMU as "an operation controlled by Yanukovych" which "hired lobbyists and public relations teams to help him project a progressive image while he quietly squeezes the press and rejiggers election laws to guarantee his party permanent rule."

By 2013, Reuters was reporting that the Podesta Group had received $900,000 in payments from the ECFMU, and Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray wrote about the ECFMU's payments to conservative U.S. writers and bloggers in exchange for favorable coverage for the Party of Regions.

Ukrainska Pravda reported in 2014 that the ECFMU was founded by three former members of the Ukrainian Parliament — all members of Yanukovych's Party of Regions — and that the group had spent over $1 million lobbying the U.S. Congress through firms such as the Podesta Group. That same year, after Yanukovych was booted from office and fled the country, Eli Lake wrote for The Daily Beast of how easily the ECFMU was able to evade the requirements of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, by falsely presenting itself as an independent organization.

According to the non-profit research group OpenSecrets, the ECFMU lobbied on behalf of Yanukovych's interest in over a dozen Congressional bills between 2012-2014, but only one of these bills listed the Podesta Group as a lobbyist: a 2012 resolution calling for the release from prison of Yanukovych's political rival, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Last week, the Associated Press ran a story (curiously headlined "Trump aides covertly fought freeing of Ukrainian prisoner") that goes into some detail on the efforts by Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates, Mercury, and The Podesta Group "that appeared to undercut public support for imprisoned Yulia Tymoshenko, who was considered a political prisoner by U.S. and European governments." Relying on "emails and insider accounts," the AP described how Gates intended to scour the legally required disclosure reports as a means of gathering intelligence on former Congressman turned lawyer and lobbyist Jim Slattery (D-Kan.), who was lobbying on behalf of Tymoshenko.

The AP wrote, "In particular, Gates wanted to know the address of Slattery's client and any information that could be gathered in the U.S. to complement similar digging in Ukraine." For his part, Slattery said, "I damn sure didn't want to get in trouble violating foreign agent laws," so he did what The Podesta Group and their lobbyist cohort did not, which is disclose that he was working on behalf of a foreign political figure.

Both Mercury and the Podesta Group publicly maintain they did not know they were working on behalf of "Ukrainian political interests," but one Mercury employee told the AP "the firm overtly opposed Tymoshenko's release" and was quoted as saying, "Everyone knew this was a shadow organization working for the greater good of the Party of Regions."

For all the talk about the Clinton Foundation being a problem of optics for Hillary Clinton's campaign, it's strange that the Podesta Group's lobbying and public relations work on behalf of both the Saudi and former Ukrainian governments isn't raising more eyebrows, particularly considering the fact that the Podesta Group was either duped by the Ukrainian regime or too careless to check out the source of their seven figure payments.

If Manafort's work made him too much of a liability to stay on the Trump campaign, what does the Podesta brothers' business mean for Hillary Clinton's campaign?

Advertisement

NEXT: The Executive Branch Doesn't Need a New Ornament

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So I’m guessing this means that the Saudi government’s role in 9/11 is still going to get blacked out.

  2. Among the Podesta Group’s accomplishments was providing a Saudi commentator to speak to the New York Times to defend the regime’s actions.

    My guess is that the main sign of the success of Saudi lobbying isn’t “what people DO say in the media about them”…

    …so much as the fact that “so few people in the media bother asking questions about them at all” = particularly to candidate Clinton.

    meaning – getting “favorable press” in exchange for money is hard, and can easily be traced.

    However, getting “Non-press” and disinterest from the MSM when there are clearly open-questions about the massive-piles of money funneled to the Clintons via their foundation, etc. … in many ways, that’s both “more effective” in protecting Saudi interests, as well as “less easy to criticize”.

    1. it’s strange that the Podesta Group’s lobbying and public relations work on behalf of both the Saudi and former Ukrainian governments isn’t raising more eyebrows

      To my point = No, its not. At all.

      1. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will complain about various and sundry groups having too much influence over politics, and then elect the same blatantly corrupt politicians over and over again.

        1. “It’s *your* guy that’s the problem! *Mine’s* just peachy keen!”

          all members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions

          For which I was here to witness, and quite frankly, despite wanting to strengthen ties with Russia and possibly enter The Customs Union, Janukovich was all-about inclusivity for all UKR’s and minorities (not surprising since he speaks Russian and is himself an ethnic Russian).

          Yanukovych’s political rival, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

          This twat is a real piece of work. She’s UKR’s Shrill Bot analogue (the major difference is Tymoshenko actually served hard time for her corruption – she didn’t have a server and a Tymoshenko Foundation, Inc.) who royally fucked over UKR by negotiating, with Putin himself, a slew of natural gas deals that basically gave the farm to Russia, banking the US and NATO to provide aid should Russia flex muscle since Gazproms owns most of the pipelines running through here.

          Yes, that one ended *SO* well…

          1. Yeah, but Tymoshenko is totally hot, so it’s all good.

        2. That’s because people are full of shit.

          Take a Hillary voter. They may know she’s unclean and untrustworthy but they will STILL vote for her.

          1. Well sure, she’s like fighting for them…

            1. Well sure, she’s like fighting for them…

              I don’t think any of them actually believe this. Not with her, anyway. She’s not fighting for them. She’s fighting the racists/sexists/homophobes/assorted other wrongthinkers, if only by coincidence, and she’ll be sure to give her supporters some scraps from her table when she’s done. At least until they stop being useful to her, then she’ll throw them under the bus faster than one of Bill’s victims.

    2. Something to ponder: will The Clinton Foundation undo the Historic deal with Iran?

      1. I don’t think you have to “undo” something to undo it.

        Look at the Iran’s relations w/ the US right now. We’re worse off in terms of ‘trust and cooperation’ now than we were in 2010, before the deal ever happened.

        They could keep the trappings of Obama’s “deal” and pretend it was an ‘important step forward’, while simultaneously doing LOTS of shit on the side which effectively imposed new military restraints on Iran and put limits on the new “fewer sanctions” regime which ensure we keep a stranglehold on them.

        Its sort of like Obamacare; even if Obama won a 3rd term, you can be damn sure he himself would end up changing most/many of the core-features of the program in order to ‘save’ it and pretend it wasn’t broken from the get go.

        a hillary admin will “fix” the ACA while keeping its superstructure. A Hillary admin will probably also freeze lots of restrictions which the Iran “Deal” were supposed to relax – not because she’s much different than the Obama admin, but simply because she’ll have more media-generosity on the subject than obama has at the moment. (particularly in the wake of the hostage/ransom situation, missile tests, etc).

      2. You mean like stop paying ransoms?

        1. Hey, that wasn’t ransom – ransom!
          /W. Goldberg

    3. Yep. The chief form of dishonesty and corruption practiced by the media is not in reporting explicit lies, but in selecting which facts it reports so as to create a misleading impression or prevent widespread knowledge of inconvenient truths at all.

      1. Exactly.

        Look at the DNC wikileaks dump.

        It was first buried by the “Khantroversy”, then when the media was forced to acknowledge what happened? It was spun as a story about “Russian Spying?”!? MUST INVESTIGATE

        They were more interested in “Investigating” speculation about ‘who did it and why’ (for which there was no evidence) than they were “Reporting” on the actual content of what had been leaked.

        It was a blatant job of “shoot the messenger”, bury the facts.

  3. but all parties involved are claiming they didn’t know the ECFMU wasn’t a legitmiately independent entity.

    Ignorance of the law most certainly IS an excuse, if you’re of the Management Class.

  4. Nixon merely covered up a scheme to break into the opposition headquarters to win an election.

    I miss Tricky Dick.

  5. If I’d have realized how lucrative selling access to power is, I’d have gotten me some power and started selling it, instead of going into IT.

    1. Imagine if IT, as a group, went on strike for a year.

      1. Yeah, but imagine all those emails you’d have to catch up on. No thank you.

        1. “Paul, I forgot my password.”

          “Paul, I forgot my password again.”

          “Paul, what’s my password.”

    2. Access is always valuable and powerful. It is why secretaries can get away with being total bitchs so often. The secretary has more access to the boss than anyone and in large measure controls that access.

      1. The secretary has more access to the boss than anyone…

        Is that what they’re calling it nowadays?

        1. Wasn’t administrative assistant a thing recently?

  6. receiving monthly payments of $140,000 to whitewash the image of Saudi Arabia’s government

    Saudi Arabia should ask for a refund.

    1. When the Clinton Foundation wins the presidency, they’ll start seeing serious returns on that investment.

      1. There is that.

    2. Isn’t it funny how building a bridge to the 21st century has turned out to involve partnering with a medieval absolute monarchy?

      1. You catch more angry hornets with piles of cash than you do without piles of cash.

        I think I messed that proverb up.

        1. More to the point, why do you want to catch angry hornets in the first place? And what do piles of cash have to do with that?

          I’m confused by your comment.

          1. You catch them to resettle them in the West? Then, when people are tired of being stung, they’ll do whatever you want if you promise to protect them from hornets (while you only pretend to do so, since your leverage evaporates once people stop getting stung). Or they murder you for siccing hornets on them, so it’s a gamble.

  7. The Podesta-Clinton-Saudi connection should be seen in light of the recent media exposes revealing the taudry pay-to-play nature of the Clinton Foundation. Top on the list of foreign donors to the foundation is Saudi Arabia, which contributed between $10 million and $25 million.

    What did the Saudis get for their largesse and access? Wikileaks revealed a 2009 cable by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying: “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar e-Tayyiba and other terrorist groups.” Instead of sanctioning the Saudis, Clinton did the opposite: She authorized enormous quantities of weapons to be sold to them. On Christmas Eve in 2011, Hillary Clinton and her closest aides celebrated a massive $29.4 billion sale to the Saudis of over 80 F-15 fighter jets, manufactured by Boeing, a company which coincidentally contributed $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In a chain of enthusiastic emails, an aide exclaimed that it was “not a bad Christmas present.” I’m sure the Yemenis at the receiving end of the Saudi bombings would not be so enthusiastic.

    Clearly Boeing has learned a few lessons since the middle aughts.

    1. Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

    2. Just today, Charity Watch gave the BH&C Clinton Family Foundation an “A” rating.

      That is all their supporters need to know; all else is just part of the vast right wing…

    3. I miss the days when corrupt pols at least felt like they needed to hide their corruption. Now they don’t even bother hiding their pay to play schemes.

    1. It’s time to put the hurt on the Ukraine.

      1. Any jokes about road apples, and so help me…

    2. He’s talking about the country’s government, not their supermodels or pornstars.

    3. I assumed this was a Seinfeld reference.

  8. “If Manafort’s work made him too much of a liability to stay on the Trump campaign, what does the Podesta brothers’ business mean for Hillary Clinton’s campaign?”

    Nothing, this is expected of her.

    1. Because the Podesta situation is totally different due to the extra degree of separation.

  9. RE: Hillary Clinton, The Podesta Group, and Making Ugly Regimes Look Good
    The Saudi government and Ukraine’s deposed pro-Kremlin regime paid a lot of money for lobbying and image rehab.

    You can’t argue with Podesta’s results. The Saudi government used to be a theocratic hell hole where women were stoned to death for adultery, people put into prison for violating Sharia law, etc. Now, Saudi Arabia is a blooming democracy where women enjoy the same political rights as men, there is freedom of religion, speech and press. This was all done with the miracles created by the Podesta Group by whitewashing Saudi’s old regime and replacing it with a new and improved imaginary democracy. One would amiss if Saudi Arabia is not the modern and freedom loving state. But the government was not the only entity that was changed there. Now the Saudi citizens can point with justifiable pride at their new forests filled with oak, maple, pine and other trees along with millions of lush vegetation throughout its once barren land. Plus, every gets an equal share of the wealth as the money from its natural resources are re-distributed in cash to every man, woman and child on a weekly basis. If that isn’t enough, Santa Claus has moved his headquarters from the frigid North Pole to Mecca where he worships in his synagogue every Friday night. Now gay bars are open. Casinos abound. Women walk around in mini skirts, etc. So who needs a revolution when you have the Podesta Group?

    1. (begins to raise hand to ask question…. rethinks it)

  10. More noxious effluent from the Vast Right Wing Smoke Machine.

    1. Hookah Ramrod Clitbomb

      /Mike M.

  11. the Podesta Group had retained an outside legal firm to investigate whether or not they had been duped by the ECFMU and that they were considering litigation against the Centre

    Ah! The ol’ “we are terrible at our jobs” defense.

  12. Look, this is nothing like one of Trump’s people having worked with the Russians in the past.

    Can’t you see? Russians! Saudia Arabia. Russians are an enemy, the Saudis are an *ally* for God’s sake.

  13. We should be doing an intellectual exercise:

    How bad would the alternative have to be before you’d put Al Capone in charge of the FBI?

    Assuming the alternative candidate isn’t a know criminal, you’d have to go for the alternative, right? Because it doesn’t really matter where Al Capone stands on the issues, putting a known criminal in charge of the FBI is unconscionable.

    So, then tweak the names around. If Trump is the alternative to Al Capone, how bad would Trump have to be on the issue for you to put Al Capone in charge of the FBI rather than Trump?

    Again, I don’t think it really matters where Trump stands on the issues because putting a known criminal in charge of the FBI is unconscionable.

    I don’t think that logic changes if you tweak the names again and use “Hillary Clinton” instead of “Al Capone”.

    How bad does Trump have to be on the issues for you to put a known crook like Hillary Clinton in charge of the White House?

    To me, it doesn’t really matter where Trump stands on the issues*. I’d much rather have him in the White House because putting a corrupt politician like Hillary Clinton in charge of the White House is unconscionable.

    *Not that I’d vote for him–but if I had to choose between the two of them?

  14. Lobbyists who fail to register under FARA when representing a foreign government, political party, or politician are potentially subject to felony prosecution, but all parties involved are claiming they didn’t know the ECFMU wasn’t a legitmiately independent entity.

    And even if they did know, you don’t think anything else will happen? Laws are for keeping the little people in line, not our “betters.”

    1. Nice. “Official state business on behalf of The Clinton Foundation.”

      1. From the article’s link to State’s Website:

        You must present your travel orders.

        “These guys need to go pick up Saudi cash so that the Foundation and cure AIDS.”

        1. *can

          Eat your heart out, Eddie.

    2. Good. Fucking. God. It seems like HRC’s mission in life is to make Richard Nixon seem like a paragon of integrity by comparison.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.