Lobbying Shop That Works for Egypt's Brutal Dictatorship Has Close Ties to Clintons
Hillary Clinton’s campaign website proclaims that as president, she would “continue her long-standing emphasis” on human rights.
But Clinton’s ties to a lobbying firm working for the government of Egypt, a country with an abusive human rights record, casts doubt on those words.
Under Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, government security forces have detained, charged or sentenced at least 41,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch. Human rights groups in Egypt say at least 124 people have died while in Egyptian prisons due to torture or negligence since Sisi came to power.
Since 2013, the Egyptian government has employed the Glover Park Group, a Washington firm run by former members of Bill Clinton’s administration, to lobby for it and to forge ties with congressional officials and media outlets, according to Foreign Agent Registration Act documents. One of the heads of Glover Park organized a fundraiser for Clinton in April 2014 that netted thousands of dollars for the candidate. Separately, employees of Glover Park have donated about $16,200 in support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The Egyptian government is well placed to influence a future Hillary Clinton administration because of its ties to the Glover Park Group. Egypt has paid over $5 million to the lobbying firm. The strong links could help Egypt weather future criticism of its human rights violations during a new Clinton tenure in the White House.
Dan Auble, a senior researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks lobbying in Washington, said that the Glover Park Group “would certainly have a bunch of people in their employ that have a relevant Rolodex” for Egypt during a future Clinton administration. “All those people who work at Glover Park would know who to call and have a bunch of people who would take their call based on their former relationship,” Auble added.
Former Clinton officials Michael Feldman and Joe Lockhart, along with two former employees of Al Gore’s presidential campaign, founded the Glover Park Group in 2001. The firm’s ties to the Clintons go beyond past experience working for Clinton and Gore.
In April 2014, Susan Brophy, a managing director at Glover Park, hosted a Ready for Hillary PAC fundraiser, Politico reported. Brophy, who worked for Bill Clinton, donated $2,700, the maximum amount, to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in May 2015, according to federal election records. Brophy is named as a lobbyist for Egypt on a Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) document. Joel Johnson, a managing director at the firm also listed in FARA documents as working on behalf of Egypt, gave $5,000 to the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA in 2011. (There are no limits on contributions to super PACs.) Johnson gave $2,700 to Clinton’s regular PAC in 2015. Feldman gave $5,000 to the super PAC.
In October 2013, the Egyptian government tapped the Glover Park Group to “provide public diplomacy, strategic communications counsel and government relations services,” according to a FARA document. A review of FARA documents reveals that Egypt has paid $5.2 million to Glover Park since 2013. Opponents of the Egyptian regime criticized the amount of money going to the lobbying shop when the contract was disclosed. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded by claiming that a third party was picking up the tab, according to O’Dwyers, a publication that covers PR firms. But no FARA documents point to any third-party pay.
Glover Park Group sets up meetings between Egyptian officials and congressional officials who sit on key committees that wield influence on legislation concerning the country. The latest FARA disclosure form reveals an October 2015 email to Adam Yezerski, a staffer for the Senate Appropriations Committee. Another FARA document shows a February 2015 email to Dana Stroul, a staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a March 2015 email to the office of Senator Lindsay Graham, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Panel, which drafts legislation on foreign military aid. FARA documents also reveal extensive contacts with the news media and think tanks.
Jason Brownlee, a professor at the University of Texas and the author of Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance, said the Egyptian government wants to ensure the continuity of U.S. military aid, which amounts to $1.3 billion a year. The Obama administration held up portions of military aid after Egyptian forces killed over 800 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in August 2013, but restored the aid in March 2015.
Congress’ number-one requirement for continuing military aid is a strong Egypt-Israel relationship, according to Brownlee.
“Congress doesn't have a problem with Egypt unless Israel has a problem with Egypt. And since Sisi has come to power, Israel is very happy,” said Brownlee. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, though there are occasional policy differences between the two nations. But Sisi has tightened a blockade on Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that is an enemy of both the Egyptian government and Israel. Sisi told the Washington Post that he and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader, confer regularly on regional issues, though the relationship has run into trouble in the past.
Brownlee noted that in 2008, Congress temporarily held up $100 million in aid after Israeli and American complaints that Egypt was not doing enough to enforce the blockade of Gaza. “Lobbying keeps the relationship going in case, at some point, Egypt's foreign policy slightly deviates from what the Israeli government and its allies in Congress might want,” he said.
But if there is any Egyptian-Israeli breach under a Clinton presidency, the Glover Park Group would be well positioned to smooth things over. And since the firm has close links to the Clintons, the Sisi government has little reason to worry about Hillary Clinton in the White House.