The Washington Post

Which foreign countries spent the most to influence U.S. politics?


(Jeffrey MacMillan/For Washington Post)

Based on what is publicly reported, foreign governments spent millions in 2013 to develop relationships within the United States with members of Congress, federal agencies and even the media, according to an analysis from the ever-informative Sunlight Foundation.

The United Arab Emirates spent a whopping $14.2 million to influence Americans, making contacts, among many others, with columnists and reporters to discuss “illicit finance issues.” Those conversations likely focused on terrorist financing and Iran sanctions, two issues that punctuated a visit Deputy Secretary of Treasury David Cohen made to the UAE early last year.

Foreign lobbying disclosures by law are much more specific than domestic ones, requiring nations to say who they contacted, when and why. For example, UAE reached out to The Washington Post’s conservative opinion blogger Jennifer Rubin in December 2013 regarding illicit finance.

The law that governs these stricter reporting requirements, the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, was created to keep tabs on Nazi propagandists during World War II. Why reporters? The United States feared Nazi Germany was paying public relations people to spin Hitler’s motives in conversations with American journalists.

Sunlight, which just last week unveiled a new data tool called Foreign Influence Explorer, analyzed spending that “foreign entities or their paid representatives reported to the Department of Justice for 2013.” The data collected by Justice does not include “diplomatic contacts by members of a nation’s embassy.”

(Source: Sunlight Foundation)
(Source: Sunlight Foundation)

The governments that spend the most here on hired PR are ones that typically don’t have strong established diplomatic ties, Sunlight’s Bill Allison told the Loop. “It’s like renting a diplomatic corps when they hire foreign agents,” he said. But when there is a hot issue with international implications, like the Keystone XL pipeline or a trade treaty, there is often a spike in lobbyists representing a country’s interests, so even nations with already close relationships with the United States like Canada, Mexico and Germany rack up hefty bills.

Last year, lobbyists for Canada met with members of Congress for “relationship building.” Mexico’s lobbyists reached out to offices about the “Consular Notification Compliance Act,” legislation to protect rights of foreign national prisoners. And Germany lobbied Congress on overseas military bases, presumably since several U.S. installations there are scheduled to be closed.

Other allies like England and France didn’t register on Sunlight’s list. And Israel, which already has huge U.S. political pull through domestic organizations, spent only $1,250. Meanwhile, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the well-connected pro-Israel group based in the United States, spent close to $3 million on lobbying last year.

Generally, it’s easy to surmise that the countries spending the most on U.S. lobbyists are ones with substantial energy, trade, immigration, agriculture or other notable business dealings in Washington. But  it’s not entirely clear why some countries depend on their diplomats here to cultivate relationships while others look for outside help.

Top 10 foreign governments paying for influence in 2013

1. UAE 14.2 million

2. Germany $12 million

3. Canada $11.2 million

4. Saudi Arabia $11.1 million

5. Mexico $6.1 million

6. Morocco $4 million

7. South Korea $3.9 million

8. Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic) $2.4 million

9. Georgia $2.3 million

10.  Azerbaijan $2.3 million

Source: Sunlight Foundation

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
Quoted
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read

politics

in-the-loop

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.