By David L. Phillips
Donald J. Trump promised to drain the swamp of lobbyists and influence peddlers. Yet, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has spent millions to influence the US government. Erdogan feels sufficiently immune that he watched his personal security beat up peaceful protesters in broad daylight just minutes after meeting Trump at the White House.
The government of Turkey has bought an army of advocates, including high profile individuals with ties to the Trump administration, lobbying firms, and thinks-tanks.
The Flynn Intel Group was paid $500,000 to represent Turkey’s national security interests. Flynn belatedly disclosed the transaction, as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, after his Turkish ties were exposed.
Giuliani and Mukasey were hired to join the legal team of Reza Zarrab, the Iran sanctions evader, charged with money laundering. After being hired by Zarrab, Giuliani and Mukasey immediately travelled to Ankara to coordinate activities with Erdogan, raising doubts about who was their client.
Lobbyists are well remunerated. Turkey pays the Gephardt Group $141,000/month; Amsterdam Partners gets $50,000/month (for working on the Gulen extradition); Greenberg Traurig, Giuliani’s law firm, receives $40,000/month; Capitol Counsel gets $32,000/month; Mercury $20,000/month; Madison Group $20,000/month; McBee Signal $20,000/month; Jim Arnold $20,000/month; MediaFix $9,000/month. Turkey paid APCO Associates $741,000 in 2016.
And yesterday, Turkey signed a fixed fee representation agreement with Burson-Marsteller to provide integrated public relations. Work includes media outreach, monitoring and analysis, event support, stakeholder engagement, and social media counsel.
The deal was announced just days after Erdogan’s security attacked US citizens protesting Turkey’s human rights record, which the D.C. Metropolitan Police called a “brutal attack on peaceful protesters.”
Lobbyists typically represent foreign interests, no matter how heinous. K Street lobbying firms will almost never turn down lucrative contacts.
But think-tanks have a choice.
Think-tanks may believe that the Turkish government is giving them money because it values their work. However, the governance committees of think-tanks shouldn’t be deluded. Turkey gives money to buy influence and legitimacy.
There should be a voluntary code of conduct for think-tanks.
Think-tanks should not accept gifts from the Turkish government or from any Turkish entity allegedly involved in criminal activity or money laundering. For example, the Vice President of HalkBank is under arrest for helping Iran evade sanctions.
Think-tanks must not allow their activities to be manipulated. They should not co-sponsor conferences with Turkish government ministries, allow sponsors to dictate topics, veto panelists, or give a platform for Erdogan and his cronies to look legitimate.
If think-tanks have offices in Turkey, the offices should be closed. Doing so would send a message against business as usual.
Think-tanks must not offer policy advice to Turkish officials, even via seemingly innocuous policy roundtables.
They must not represent Turkish interests before US government agencies. Employees of think-tanks that have accepted funds from the Turkish government must not act as witnesses before Congressional committees, which violates “truth in testimony” rules.
Washington is broken. Influence peddling is pervasive. Time to blow the whistle on Beltway bandits. Silence is complicity
David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the State Department during the administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. His new book is An Uncertain Ally: Turkey Under Erdogan’s Dictatorship.