Thursday, May 17, 2007

Image Makeovers

It's time to check in on the Obiang family again.

A recent article by Joshua Kurlantzik in Mother Jones on the use of American public relations firms by dictators reports that Equatorial Guinea has been paying the high-powered Washington lobbying firm of Cassidy & Associates at least $120,000 per month since 2004 to improve its image in the United States. A brief look at available Department of Justice reports on foreign agent registrations suggestts that Kurlantzik has understated Equatorial Guinea's spending on PR--at least for 2005.

Over the course of six months in 2005, Equatorial Guinea paid C/R International, L.L.C. $154,469.37, Cassidy & Associates, Inc. $1,020,000.00, Farragut Advisors (E.G.), LLC, $57,735.00, JWI, L.L.C. $22,500, and Sidley Austin LLP $139,577.27, for a grand total of $1,394,281.64, or $232,380.27 per month. (Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act records are not up to date on the Department's website, perhaps due to a congressional mandate that will result in a searchable online database soon.) There were foreign governments that spent more than Equatorial Guinea did on lobbying and PR services (for example, Saudi Arabia more than quadrupled Equatorial Guinea's spending), but not many.

Has the spending paid off? Perhaps. President Teodoro Obiang was warmly welcomed to Washington by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in April 2006. More importantly, the Bush Administration continues to ignore its own anti-kleptocracy initiative and to encourage American investment in Equatorial Guinea's oil and natural gas industry.

Incidentally, the Cassidy & Associates website claims the company helps "foreign governments to design and implement comprehensive campaigns to ensure successful relations with the U.S. government." Indeed. Like Los Angeles realtors, Washington lobbyists don't mind doing business with dictators.

It may be time for me to watch Thank You for Smoking again so I can hear Nick Naylor say, "My job requires a certain . . . moral flexibility."