In the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder straining Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic relations, a new investigation reveals the extent of the kingdom’s lobbying in the US.
Rabat – The Center for International Policy (CIP) has released a report exploring the strings Riyadh has pulled to weave an amicable relationship with Washington, to illegally support election campaigns, and to influence US foreign policy.
Saudi Arabia has taken a blow recently as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) has been implicated as the mastermind behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but even last year, Saudi Arabia spent millions to improve its image in the US while their bilateral ties were strengthening.
Since 2017, Saudi Arabia has enjoyed relations with the US upon the election of US President Donald Trump.
Illegal campaign contributions?
According to the report, the kingdom spent $27 million on firms registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the legal apparatus for international lobbying, in 2017.
The CIP also implicates Saudi Arabia in illegal spending in the US: Donating to election campaigns. The FARA firms Saudi Arabia paid spent $2.3 million on campaign contributions.
Of those contributions, nearly $400,000 were made to congressmen which the FARA firms had contacted on Saudi Arabia’s behalf. On twelve occasions, the firms contacted the congressmen for Saudi Arabia and made campaign contributions on the same day.
The report suggested that Saudi Arabia made donations through FARA firms to circumvent US federal law, which prohibits foreign donations influencing federal elections.
Saudi Arabia’s FARA firms donated to the campaigns of 75 senators and members of the House of Representatives, all of which the firms had contacted on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
Trump’s presidency coincided with Saudi Arabia’s forming of partnerships with 29 public relation firms aiming to form and strengthen ties between Riyadh and US congressmen.
Some 100 individuals Saudi Arabia hired as registered foreign agents made more than 2,500 political contacts in 2017.
“Saudi lobbyists contacted more than 200 different Congressional offices and every single Senators’ office,” the report states, according to Saudi Arabia’s 2017 FARA filings.
Lobbying firms like the Glover Park Group and BRG Group, have since turned down their Saudi clients following Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2.
The investigation mentioned that some of the most cited reasons Saudi lobbyists used for contacting congressional offices in 2017 included “Yemen,” “Qatar,” and the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” (JASTA), a law which allowed the ongoing lawsuit by families of 9/11 victims against Saudi Arabia.
MBS’ costly friendship with the Trump family
The report also noted that Saudi Arabia was Trump’s destination in his first trip abroad soon after he entered the presidency.
Bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner became close friends and paved the way for a closer friendship between Trump and Saudi Arabia.
The report states that during Trump’s trip to the kingdom in May 2017, “Trump and Kushner were given the royal treatment and lavished with gifts.”
“Trump was given the opportunity to grandstand on the global stage, announcing a $110 billion arms deal with the Kingdom, which has subsequently been shown to be inaccurate but continues to be asserted by the President.”
Shortly after the historical visit, the US increased its support of Saudi Arabia on several levels, from the blockade against Qatar and the war in Yemen to the purchasing of weapons, the Iran nuclear deal, and even JASTA.