Top D.C. law firm to represent Ivory Coast opposition leader Alassane Ouattara

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 19, 2011; 5:40 PM

One of Washington's top law firms has signed on to represent Alassane Ouattara, an Ivory Coast opposition leader who has been recognized as the winner of a disputed presidential election in that country.

In papers scheduled to be filed with the Justice Department on Thursday, Covington & Burling said it will "provide advice on international legal and policy matters" to Ouattara as he continues to try to take over from ousted president Laurent Gbagbo. The work will be done free of charge as part of the firm's pro bono services, officials said.

The decision follows controversy late last year over former Clinton administration counsel Lanny Davis, who registered to become Gbagbo's lobbyist in Washington after the disputed election Nov. 28. Davis, whose firm collected $300,000 in fees, said last month that he was severing the agreement with Gbagbo.

Ouattara has been unable to assume the presidency because Gbagbo refuses to leave office, despite international sanctions, pleas from African leaders and the threat of a military ouster. The new president was holed up in an Ivory Coast hotel as tensions continued to flare, including reports of fatal shootings this week by forces loyal to Gbagbo.

Alan P. Larson, Covington's senior international policy adviser, said the firm will focus much of its efforts on ensuring that funds due to the government of Ivory Coast are not wrongly funneled to Gbagbo or his supporters.

"Our highest and best use is to be providing legal and strategic advice on the steps that need to be taken to make sure that he is recognized for what he is, which is the elected, legitimate president of Cote d'Ivoire," Larson said, using the French name for the country. "It's very important in the big scheme of things to have the situation in Cote d'Ivoire come out right."

The rush to represent both sides in Ivory Coast underscores the lucrative but little-noticed world of overseas lobbying, in which U.S. firms sign contracts with foreign governments, leaders or companies to represent their interests. Under a long-standing law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act, U.S. firms are required to disclose the details of such contracts to the Justice Department, including payment schedules.

But such arrangements can prove uncomfortable if the clients become the focus of international controversy. Last week, for example, the Washington Media Group announced that it had severed ties with the collapsing regime in Tunisia amid reports of human rights abuses.

Cantor's venti fundraiser

The stereotypical Capitol Hill fundraiser usually involves booze served from the bar of a nearby watering hole.

But Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has long taken a more creative approach to raising money, including holding regular fundraisers in the cozy - some might say cramped - upper level of a Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The new House majority leader has resumed the tradition this year, holding his first "Coffee with Cantor" event at 8 a.m. Wednesday, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Washington Post. "Choose any or all Coffee Dates for $2,500 per PAC," the invite says.

And you thought a regular Starbucks latte was expensive.

A spokeswoman for Cantor's campaign committee did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Cantor is by no means the only lawmaker to go outside the rubber-chicken circuit for campaign money. The Sunlight Foundation, which tracks congressional fundraisers, tallied 965 breakfasts, 729 lunches and 368 dinners last year; the group also found at least 37 fundraisers centered on coffee.

The range of events illustrates how relentless the pace of fundraising has become on Capitol Hill, experts say. "Pretty much every waking hour of every day is now covered by fundraisers," said Nancy Watzman, a Sunlight Foundation consultant.

Citizens United still at issue

Public interest groups are staging events this week decrying the first anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court decision allowing unfettered corporate spending on elections.

On Friday, for example, ice cream magnates Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are scheduled to come to Washington to announce the formation of Business for Democracy, a group formed with the long-term goal of overturning Citizens United.

"Our current system of campaign finance gives legislators every incentive to do special favors for the special interests and lobbyists who pay for their campaigns rather than focus on creating the vibrant, sustainable and just economy that the U.S. needs," the group said in a news release.

Another group, Common Cause, plans to file a complaint Thursday with the Justice Department, arguing that justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the Citizens United case because of alleged ties with Koch Industries, a privately held firm whose owners bankroll many conservative causes.

The group says that the Obama administration, which opposed the Citizens United ruling, could ask the high court to vacate the decision. Supreme Court officials had no comment Wednesday.

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