The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is on a lobbyist hiring frenzy as President-elect Joe Biden, who has signaled he will take a tougher stance on the nation, prepares for office.
With the potential for a more tumultuous relationship with the US, Saudi Arabia has hired some lobbyists who have ties to Republican congressional leaders.
These lobbyists may be more successful working with GOP lawmakers in the new Congress rather than Democrats or Biden’s government. Republicans made gains in the House of Representatives during the 2020 election and could have a slight head start in the Senate if they win one of the seats in two Georgia runoffs scheduled for early next month.
Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations during the Democratic primary last year that he would reduce US support for Saudi Arabia on key issues.
“I would end US support for the disastrous Saudi-waged war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relations with Saudi Arabia,” Biden said at the time. “It is time to re-establish balance, perspective and loyalty to our values in our Middle Eastern relations. President Trump has given Saudi Arabia a dangerous blank check,” he added.
The kingdom is largely ruled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. NBC News reported in 2018 that he ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the Crown Prince has denied. The then president stood by Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s death. The two nations had signed an arms treaty worth nearly $ 110 billion a year earlier.
According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, the Saudi Arabian government spent more than $ 30 million on lobbying activities in 2018. So far, spending in 2020 has been $ 5 million.
A representative from the Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
One of the youngest employees came from the Larson Shannahan Slifka Group, an Iowa-based public affairs company, which signed a lucrative deal with the Saudi embassy last year. The embassy, also known as the LS2 group, agreed to pay $ 1.5 million for a year in 2019.
New records show that LS2 recently launched the Arena Strategy Group for actions that include “informing the public, government officials and the media about the importance of promoting and fostering strong ties between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” be lobbying report says.
The contract began on December 1, weeks after Biden was declared president-elect, and will include government work, the document says. The contract is valued at approximately $ 5,000 per month.
Arena’s government efforts are led by Mark Graul, a Republican political strategist who was Wisconsin State Director for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. He was also Chief of Staff to former Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis., When Green was in Congress. Green later became head of the U.S. agency for international development under Trump and resigned earlier this year.
Graul did not return a request for comment.
The Saudi Arabian DC embassy recently suspended Off Hill Strategies for the period that spans the final leg of the election through the transition period.
The company is a boutique lobbying shop founded by Tripp Baird, who was once director of government relations for the conservative organization Heritage Action for America. The contract began in late October, while Biden was ahead of Trump in almost all national polls. It is also advised that the $ 25,000-per-month agreement runs through January 18, two days before Biden is due to be inaugurated.
According to the treaty, the focus of Off Hill’s lobbying work is “to support the public relations work of the embassy congress and to further develop bilateral relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America”. A separate report on lobbying disclosure shows that Off Hill helped Saudi Arabia “gather information about year-end omnibus legislation”.
Baird has not returned a request for comment.
In another case, the Saudis turned to a leading public relations firm to help develop an expensive urban development designed to bolster the country’s growing international ambitions.
According to a file, a senior PR juggernaut Edelman emailed a massive Saudi land development leader named Neom to explain their agreement. Jere Sullivan, the company’s vice chairman for global public affairs, told Neom that Edelman will provide strategic advice, media relations, stakeholder identification and engagement, and content development.
The agreement is set to run from mid-November to February, according to the email, and is expected to cost up to $ 75,000 per month.
Neom is, according to the Edelman Foreign Lobbying Disclosure Report, “100% owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign property of the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As such, its activities are monitored, directed, controlled, financed and funded subsidized by the PIF. “
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that the Neom project is supported by MBS and the project is valued at $ 500 billion for the Saudi city-state. The Journal reported at the time that by 2030, MBS hopes this newly developed region will be one of the global technology centers. The Saudi leadership believes it could replace the US technology center Silicon Valley. The projected schedule for completion coincides with Biden’s first term as president and would extend beyond 2024.
According to Neom’s website, it is “a region in northwest Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea to be built from the ground up as a living laboratory,” and it will “offer a variety of unique development opportunities given its strategic Red Sea location the coast is notable for its proximity to international markets and trade routes. “
The group expects the project to be completed in the next seven to ten years.
Sullivan declined to comment.