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June 22, 2007
"Although there are distinct limits to what they can achieve, lobbyists are the crucial conduit through which pariah regimes advance their interests in Washington." --Ken Silverstein

Ken Silverstein, HARPER'S Magazine's Washington Editor, has for years been reporting on the questionable lobbying practices of certain Washington firms that advocate in Congress on behalf of corrupt foreign regimes.

For his latest article, he decided to pose as the representative of a fictitious investment group with business interests in Turkmenistan, and approached several prominent Washington lobbying firms to see how they might bolster the image of Turkmenistan as a viable international economic and diplomatic partner.

"The first step was to select a suitably distasteful would-be client. Given that my first pick, North Korea, seemed too reviled to be credible, I settled on the only slightly less Stalinist regime of Turkmenistan." And in hopes of raising even more red flags, Sliverstein claimed affiliation with The Maldon Group, a mysterious investment firm about which he would divulge little to no information (understandably since it does not really exist), only that it's involved in the Turkmen-Ukraine Natural Gas trade, "which has been marked by flagrant corruption - as can be ascertained by anyone who cares to perform a Google search."

After initially phoning and emailing with four companies, Silverstein eventually met with two prominent Washington firms: APCO and Cassidy & Associates, both of which prepared elaborate powerpoint presentations and written reports explaining why their firm was the best candidate to bolster the image of the new Turkmanistan government, with very few questions asked.

"It was a vision of just how regimes like Angola and Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, the serial abrogator of 'human dignity,' can make and keep their wealthy American friends. Someday soon, perhaps, the same will happen for Turkmenistan - God and lobbyists willing."

Read APCO's response to the story

References and Reading:
Their Men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.'s lobbyists for Hire
Read Ken Silverstein's recent report in HARPER'S.

Washington's Babylon
Read Ken Silverstein's political blog on HARPER'S Web site. Silverstein began the blog, which focuses on political corruption, in April 2006, and updates it several times a week.

Saudis and Americans: Friends in Need
by Ken Silverstein, NATION, December 3, 2001
"Thanks to its perceived strategic importance, the kingdom can count on high-level support in the capital, especially at the White House, State Department and Pentagon. To bolster their status, the Saudis conduct a discreet and effective lobbying program, which is backed by US businesses with a big stake in the kingdom, especially weapons makers and oil companies."


House of Representatives Committee on Rules
United States Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
Senate Lobbying Rules
House of Representatives Lobbying and Public Disclosure Rules

One of the two Washington lobbying firms that Ken Silverstein sat down with for his report. From their website: "APCO Worldwide is a global communication consultancy specializing in building relationships with an organization's key stakeholders."

Cassidy & Associates
"Perhaps one of the most prominent of all the Washington lobby shops," describes Silverstein in his recent report. According to their Web site: "In an environment of continuous change, Cassidy & Associates has remained a constant as Washington's leader in government relations. For more than thirty years, clients have come to us for advice and solutions to deal with the myriad of issues that can result from government action."

U.S. State Department Briefing on Human Rights
Condoleeza Rice: "With the release of this year's reports we are recommitting ourselves to help new democracies deliver on their people's aspirations for a better life. We are recommitting ourselves to stand with those courageous men and women who struggle for their freedom and their rights. And we are recommitting ourselves to call every government to account that still treats the basic rights of its citizens as options rather than, in President Bush's words, the non-negotiable demands of human dignity."

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)
"Enacted in 1938. FARA is a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities."

Ivy Lee Papers
According to Silverstein, the dealings of noted public-relations specialist, Ivy Lee, with the Nazi government, helped lead to the creation of The Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1938. "The Ivy L. Lee Papers consist of personal papers and material from the public relations firm of Ivy Lee and Associates documenting his public relations theories and practice."

It's a Gas. Funny Business in the Turkmen-Ukraine Gas Trade.
2006 report from London-based Global Witness, that documented corruption in Turkmenistan's Natural Gas trade.


Silverstein's undercover tactics have caused some comment among journalists ...and lobbyists. Read what some observers have to say about such tactics and then tell us what you think on the blog.

  • "Ethics in Reporting Crimes Against Humanity: An Interview with Professor James Carey" The Rhode to Srebrenica, Columbia University
  • "Journalists in Disguise - Foolish and Dangerous," Covering the Attack: Day Four, Poynter Institute
  • Radio and Television News Director's Hidden Camera Guidelines

  • Related Media:
    Cleaning House: Congressional Ethics
    One of Washington's most influential public advocates, Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen, talks about what is at stake in the ethical reforms under consideration in Congress.

    Photo by Robin Holland

    Published June 22, 2007

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