Meet Bahrain’s Best Friend in Congress
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The group's creation coincided with Bahrain's hiring of several lobbying and public-relations firms to shore up its image in Washington and preserve its key alliance with the U.S. during the crackdown on protests.
Policy Impact's Nixon told ProPublica that he and Faleomavaega have been "close personal friends [going] back almost before he was elected to Congress" in 1988, but that "there's never been a quid pro quo on anything I've done professionally" with the congressman.
"When you give money to a congressman — which I do; I've been in Washington since 1983 — there's never an expectation of something for that money," Nixon said. "Most often that money gets in the way of their ability to really assist you because it looks like something nefarious is under way."
The Bahrain American Council appears to have worked closely with Faleomavaega from early on. It has featured his statements on Bahrain on its website, including Faleomavaega's defense of Bahrain during a congressional human rights hearing in May. In Bahrain, both state-run and pro-government media have touted Faleomavaega's various statements on the crisis (sample headline: "'Democracy can't be achieved through violence and blocking roads', US Congress members said"). Last September, the Bahrain American Council's president and an adviser to the king of Bahrain, Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, met with Faleomavaega in his Capitol Hill office.
In October, Faleomavaega along with Reps. Donald Payne, D-N.J., and Lynne Woolsey, D-Calif., traveled to Bahrain on his first trip paid by Bahrain's government. On the first night of the trip, the Bahrain American Council hosted a dinnerhonoring the members of Congress at the five-star Gulf Hotel in the capital, Manama. The Bahrain American Council's president, Al Khalafalla, also accompanied the delegation in a meeting with the king. And the Bahrain American Council co-sponsored a speech by Faleomavaega in Manama in which he again criticized protesters and blamed Iran for stirring up unrest.
The congressional delegation also met with members of opposition party, Wefaq, but a party official later expressed disappointment with the meeting, writing that "the response of the delegation did not meet our expectation as it did not show enough understanding for the legitimate demands for reform."
Faleomavaega, for his part, said in an email that he was introduced to the Bahrain American Council by Bart Marcois, a political operative who was, for a six-month period beginning last year, a vice president at Policy Impact.
Marcois is a former foreign service officer for the State Department and also former public affairs adviser to the government of Kuwait in Washington. He has also been active in Mormon outreach in the GOP, founding the Republican National Committee's Advisory Council on LDS Outreach and running Eagle PAC, which was created in 2007 "to solicit money from Mormons for distribution to Republican congressional candidates," according to Politico.
Marcois said he is a longtime friend of both Faleomavaega and Khalafalla, the head of the Bahrain American Council, and he introduced them early last year after the council was created but before he had joined Policy Impact.
"I've known [Faleomavaega] for a long time, and you can never predict what he's going to get involved in," Marcois said. "He doesn't get involved in anything for somebody's interests."
Faleomavaega said he became interested in Bahrain because he is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and because the situation involves the alleged influence of Iran, which he believes is also extending to the Pacific Islands region.
"Due to the February 14, 2011 uprisings in Bahrain, which have yet to be resolved, I have a keen interest in our strategic and national security interests in this region," Faleomavaega said in an email to ProPublica, "especially in view of Iran's influence in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf region — and whether it is subtle or overt, I am also concern[ed] that Iranian influence is now seemingly visible in South America and in the Pacific Islands." As evidence, he pointed to Iran's diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands.