The Washington Free Beacon, a new website on the right, has a particular fascination with promoting weapon sales to Taiwan. In addition to daily hits on the Obama administration and Democrats, the Free Beacon has multiple posts calling for more F-16 fighter jet sales to the island nation, and has branded skeptics of militarization as “pro-China” activists.
The site, however, fails to disclose the fact that its sponsor is a lobbyist for a firm dedicated to helping Taiwan advance its policy agenda.
Michael Goldfarb, a former Republican staffer and writer, founded the Free Beacon with “several million dollars” in January of this year. Listed as the chairman of the 501(c) group that sponsors the Free Beacon website, Goldfarb is also a partner at the lobbying and public relations firm Orion Strategies, LLC.
The contract between the Taiwanese ambassador and Goldfarb’s firm, renewed last year for a period that ends on September 30, 2012, stipulates that Orion will be paid $180,000 a year to “provide advice and consulting services concerning Taiwan’s strategic goals.”
Orion’s advocacy, according to disclosures filed with the Justice Department, has centered on promoting US authorization to sell Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. Mike Mitchell, Goldfarb’s partner at Orion, makes weekly calls to Congress to press lawmakers and their staff on the issue, from arranging Congressional visits to Taiwan to prepping for Senate hearings.
As Goldfarb’s firm quietly peddles influence for Taiwan’s arms agenda in Congress, his site provides a megaphone. A Free Beacon article from earlier this year quotes an anonymous “industry representative” to demand that the Obama Administration “release the 66 new Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52+ fighter aircraft that Taiwan [has] requested to purchase.” Another Free Beacon piece promoting increased arms sales calls National Security Council member Evan Medeiros, a policy expert the Free Beacon claims played a “key figure in killing the planned sale of new F-16 jets to Taiwan,” a “key pro-China activist.”
There is no disclosure on the Free Beacon website that its chairman is paid to lobby for Taiwan and other interest groups.
Senator John Cornyn’s (R-TX) efforts on behalf of Taiwan have been guided, and publicized, by Goldfarb-related organizations. Orion has met with Cornyn or his staff more than fifty times in the last year on Taiwan-related issues, including “congressional strategy to promote F-16 sale[s] to Taiwan,” legislation to force new F-16 sales, and travel to the country.
The effort has paid off. On November 18, 2011, Cornyn placed a hold—a privilege given to Senators to unilaterally block almost any presidential appointee—against Mark Lippert to become an assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. Cornyn said he would block the nomination until the administration reconsidered the sale of 66 new F-16 jets to Taiwan. A week prior to the hold, Orion discussed Lippert-related strategy with Cornyn’s office, according to disclosures.
The hold, of course, was celebrated by the Free Beacon, which posted a digitized copy of Cornyn’s letter. Cornyn lifted his hold in April, after the White House pledged to give serious consideration to his Taiwan-related demands.
The extent to which Orion uses the Free Beacon as a front for its clients is unclear. A mandatory disclosure form for its foreign lobbying that was due in May of this year has still not been filed. A representative from the Justice Department confirmed to The Nation that Goldfarb’s firm has failed to file its 2012 Supplemental Statement.
Goldfarb has leveraged his relationship with conservative media to promote his clients’ concerns. On behalf of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, a country that currently has a $270,000 contract with Orion, Goldfarb arranged for an interview between Ambassador Temuri Yakobashvili and a Washington Jewish Week reporter named Adam Kredo last year. In December of 2010, he arranged for multiple journalists, including The Weekly Standard’s Matt Continetti, to have dinner with Georgian Vice Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze. And last year, Goldfarb was hired by Koch Industries as part of the company’s “crisis communication” team. At the time, Goldfarb was still affiliated with The Weekly Standard, and the magazine’s writers, like Continetti, began publishing pieces defending the billionaire owners of Koch Industries, David and Charles Koch.
Requests for comment to the Free Beacon, Orion Strategies and the Taiwan embassy have not been returned.
Since publication of this piece, the Taiwan embassy contacted The Nation but did not provide further details. However, the Justice Department now displays Orion Strategy's first 2012 Supplemental Statement, which further confirms that Goldfarb's lobbying firm consulted with the Free Beacon on "Taiwan arms sales." See a screenshot below: