Meet Ketchum, a New York-based PR firm that looks out for Russia's interests in the U.S..
What exactly does Ketchum do? Well, the company doesn't really talk about it. Here's what they told me this week:
Ketchum's work with the Russian Federation began in 2006 when Ketchum was hired to provide public relations counsel and media relations support to the Presidential press office as the country prepared to host the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg. Our work continues to focus on supporting economic development and investment in the country and facilitating the relationship between representatives of the Russian Federation and the Western media. We are not advising the Russian Federation on foreign policy, including the current situation in Ukraine.
But, do a little digging and a picture of Ketchum's work for Russia comes into focus. Ketchum spends a lot of time sending out press releases, setting up meetings with visiting Russian officials, and talking with journalists about things like Russia's G20 presidency and U.S.-Russia relations, according to its latest filing with the Justice Department.
The firm also placed an op-ed by Vladimir Putin in The New York Times in September in which the Russian President wrote that he wanted "to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders" and urged caution as Washington was considering a military strike against Syria. (In the PR world it was quite a coup, and although Ketchum's role was well understood, the firm seems to have only really acknowledged it in January, with its report to Justice.) In the Times piece, Putin wrote: "It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it." That might look strange in light of recent events, but it worked out well for Ketchum, landing the No. 5 spot on the list of most-visited content on nytimes.com for 2013.
And it paid well, too. Ketchum reported bringing in $1.6 million for its work for the Russian Federation for the six months that ended on Nov. 30, 2013. More than a million of those dollars stayed with Ketchum, but $476,000 was used to cover expenses and fees paid to others to work on the Russians' behalf.
Thanks to the details required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, we know where that half a million dollars went. There was $138,553 to maslanksy + partners, a communication firm that says it finds "the right language so people hear what you're trying to say." Um, okay. In an earlier iteration, this was longtime GOP strategist Frank Luntz's company, but he left in 2008, according to a corporate history on the firm's Web site. Another $100,000 went to Alston & Bird, a Washington law firm. And there are smaller payments, too, like $34.22 to FedEx and $137.28 to RMA Chauffeured Transportation, based in Rockville, Md.