Ex-Soviets Invade K Street

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Florida Congressman Allen West’s recent announcement that, “There’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party” sent some of us familiar with the Red Scares of the McCarthy era off on a good old-fashioned, Washington Commie hunt. And we found them!

That is, if you count those who hail from former member states of the former Soviet Union.

Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili on the cover of Forbes magazine

© Forbes magazine

The website Politico reports that billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, from Georgia — once the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic — is taking “Washington by storm, hiring more than half a dozen lobbying and public relations firms over the past three months,” including heavyweights Patton Boggs and Downey McGrath.

Ivanishvili, it seems, wants to be prime minister of Georgia and hopes pressure from the U.S. will help bring about free and fair elections back home. “The lobbying push is massive,” Politico’s Anna Palmer writes, “going beyond what most countries spend trying to influence Washington lawmakers, much less an individual…

“Ivanishvili, the wealthiest man in Georgia, made much of his $6.4 billion fortune in Russia. He is embroiled in a bitter feud with Georgia president Mikheil Saakashvili over the future of the country. Saakashvili, who has dominated Georgian politics since the country’s 2008 war with Russia, may also run to be the next prime minister.”

Meanwhile, Sergey Kostyaev, senior fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is blogging at the website of the congressional newspaper The Hill, which in the old days of the Cold War would have been like Khrushchev appearing in the Sports Illustrated swimwear issue.

“Surprise!” he exclaims. “Foreign lobbying in the U.S. is on the rise despite the slightly declining role of the U.S. in the world economy…”

“From 1999 to 2011, the US share of Global GDP declined from 28% to 25%. At the same time, the number of foreign clients of registered lobbyists increased by 130%, according to author’s calculations based on data field under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 and Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. In contrast, for last 13 years the total number of entities which hire lobbyists increased just by 53%. As a result, the share of foreign clients of lobbyists among all lobbyists increased from 7% to 11%.”

All of which makes this a good moment to mention that public interest journalists ProPublica and the non-partisan watchdog Sunlight Foundation jointly operate a useful website called Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker. It “digitizes information that representatives of foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities must disclose to the U.S. Justice Department when they seek to influence U.S. policy.”

Kostyaev points to globalization as the reason for the uptick in foreign lobbying but also notes that lobbying by foreign governments is in decline while private lobbying from overseas is increasing. So it’s worth noting that although foreign governments and political parties are required to register with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, private individuals come under the jurisdiction of the less stringent Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili claims to be lobbying as an individual even though his Georgian Dream opposition movement could be seen as a political party. As the influence and largesse of lobbyists continues to grow in Washington, this is the kind of loophole it’s worth keeping an eye on.

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