It was May 2017. The Saudis were growing increasingly nervous. For more than two years they had been relying heavily on US military support and bombs to defeat Houthi rebels in Yemen. Now, the Senate was considering a bipartisan resolution to cut off military aid and halt a big sale of American-made bombs to Saudi Arabia. Fortunately for them, despite mounting evidence that the US-backed, supplied, and fueled air campaign in Yemen was targeting civilians, the Saudi government turned out to have just the weapon needed to keep those bombs and other kinds of aid coming their way: an army of lobbyists.
That year, their forces in Washington included members of more than two dozen lobbying and public relations firms. Key among them was Marc Lampkin, managing partner of the Washington office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck (BHFS), a company that would be paid nearly half a million dollars by the Saudi government in 2017. Records from the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) show that Lampkin contacted Senate offices more than 20 times about that resolution, speaking with, for instance, the legislative director for Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) on May 16, 2017. Perhaps coincidentally, Lampkin reported making a $2,000 contribution to the senator’s political action committee that very day. On June 13th, along with a majority of his fellow senators, Scott voted to allow the Saudis to get their bombs. A year later, the type of bomb authorized in that sale has reportedly been used in air strikes that have killed civilians in Yemen.
Little wonder that, for this and his other lobbying work, Lampkin earned a spot on the “Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns” list compiled by the Washington publication The Hill.
Lampkin’s story was anything but exceptional when it comes to lobbyists working on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was, in fact, very much the norm. The Saudi government has hired lobbyists in profusion and they, in turn, have effectively helped convince members of Congress and the president to ignore blatant human rights violations and civilian casualties in Yemen. According to a forthcoming report by the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative program, which I direct, at the Center for International Policy, registered foreign agents working on behalf of interests in Saudi Arabia contacted congressional representatives, the White House, the media, and figures at influential think tanks more than 2,500 times in 2017 alone. In the process, they also managed to contribute nearly $400,000 to the political coffers of senators and House members as they urged them to support the Saudis. Some of those contributions, like Lampkin’s, were given on the same day the requests were made to support those arms sales.