Special-Interest Lobbies - Foreign government lobbies

Only in the last decades of the twentieth century did foreign governments find it necessary to go beyond traditional diplomatic practices to compete effectively in the often frenzied lobbying efforts surrounding important foreign affairs legislation in Washington. While retaining the usual contingent of consular and diplomatic personnel, foreign embassies increasingly turned to American firms and consultants to represent them with members of Congress, officials of the executive branch, and foreign affairs interest groups. By the early 1990s Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, and Mexico were the biggest spenders on these kinds of activities in the United States. The Canadian government spent an estimated $40 million in seeking support for the U.S.–Canadian Free Trade Agreement and Mexico spent $40 million in promoting NAFTA. Nor did foreign governments rely exclusively upon paid lobbies; starting in the 1970s, foreign leaders began dealing directly with Congress. Visits of heads of state to Congress were initially ceremonial, but soon they became working sessions for negotiating with members of Congress and their staffs.

The first laws regulating lobbyists for foreign government were put in place on the eve of World War II, when Congress adopted the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. The legislation was originally spurred by Nazi propaganda in the United States, but after the war its main target became the threat of communism. In 1966 the law was amended to deal more particularly with the lobbyists retained by friendly governments rather than with secret enemy agents. The revised law required every foreign agent engaged in political activity for a foreign government to register with the Justice Department and to make detailed reports of income, expenditures, and contributions. Although the law had enforcement and investigative provisions, it was not vigorously enforced, and compliance appears to have been only nominal. The Foreign Agents Registration Act was again amended later in the 1960s and in the 1970s to provide for the criminal prosecution of foreign agents and lobbyists making election campaign contributions.

By the late 1970s the number of registered foreign agents lobbying or otherwise working on behalf of foreign governments had grown to more than 600, compared to 160 in 1944, and observers noted that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Former high-ranking executive branch officials and members of Congress, including former secretaries of state and chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, registered as agents for foreign governments. They generally worked for nations of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East that would be affected by trade and military assistance legislation but whose governments knew little about the details of legislation or the workings of Congress. Many foreign governments maintained advocacy offices in Washington that were independent of their embassies. These generally sought to foster commerce by lobbying Congress directly or through sympathetic American business groups. Foreign governments funded fellowships and scholarly centers, which indirectly ensured that the governments' interests and concerns reached Congress through the advice and testimony of American scholars.

The emergence of vigorous human rights lobbies in the 1970s aimed at notoriously repressive governments in Central and South America and Asia caused some governments of the region to enlist Washington lobbyists to mitigate the loss or reduction of American economic or military assistance and counteract bad publicity resulting from human rights violations. In the 1970s the Argentine and Chilean lobbies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars but had little success in dissuading Congress from greatly reducing annual aid allotments. During the same decade, the Nicaraguan lobby was successful in gaining the confidence of some strategically placed members of Congress, who helped delay the withdrawal of American military assistance to General Anastasio Somoza's regime.

Lobbying on behalf of the South Korean government, which annually received about $200 million in military aid and $100 million in Food for Peace agricultural products, precipitated a major scandal in 1976 and 1977. Congress and various executive branch agencies launched investigations into Koreagate, in which the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) was accused of bribery, espionage, influence peddling, and other illegal practices aimed at a number of members of Congress. The investigations concluded that as much as $750,000 may have been distributed to more than thirty members by KCIA agents. The KCIA-managed lobbying program apparently succeeded in warding off restrictions on South Korean aid because of human rights violations by the South Korean regime, but the investigations led to legal action against several former members of Congress and disciplinary action against some sitting members.

U.S. Government Response to Foreign Affairs Lobbying The heightened sensitivity and vulnerability of members of Congress to vocal and determined interest groups contributed to the structural changes in Congress in the 1970s and evolved over time further methods of interaction between legislators and lobbying groups. Where the multiplication of subcommittees failed to meet the needs of interest groups or ensure an effective hearing to their issues, so called "issue caucuses" outside the formal congressional committee structure were set up, allowing interested legislators to work together in responding in a far more focused way to interest groups and their lobbyists. The issue caucuses allowed complicated issues to be more fully delineated and provided venues for individual legislators to develop their positions. The issue caucuses worked so well in bringing together information about contentious matters that the executive branch often tended to favor them rather than dealing with the interest groups themselves, thereby providing an unintended but useful synergy in moving the government forward more quickly to respond to the expectations of interest groups.

As the lobbying of executive branch officials came to be recognized as legitimate, federal officials and lobbyists developed new ways to accomplish common goals. The White House and the State Department more frequently turned not to political parties but to particular interest groups and their lobbies when it was necessary to develop public support for treaties, agreements, and difficult foreign affairs initiatives. In 1978 the Carter White House established a public liaison office that, along with selected senior presidential advisers, had the task of gathering support from interest groups for administration policies and to ensure that the political needs and expectations of those groups were met as much as possible. This approach continued in following administrations. President Clinton drew criticism from political opponents for his extensive entertainment of business interests at the White House, but the practice resulted in important support for such foreign policy initiatives as NAFTA.

The Reagan administration developed a "public diplomacy" program aimed at lobbying public interest groups to counter the tide of public opinion and congressional action against counterinsurgency actions in Central America and the Caribbean. Public diplomacy was defined as government actions to generate support, through information and persuasion, for national security objectives. The State Department became the locus for this public diplomacy program, which over time consisted of numerous ad hoc working groups and task forces of officials drawn from various agencies. The program dealt with the public affairs aspects of each new crisis arising from the administration's Central American and, later, Middle East policies. Public diplomacy programs were carefully designed to allow the administration to skirt the legal constraints on executive branch lobbying of a Congress that sought to thwart the use of covert counterinsurgency actions. The State Department also sought to lobby the fragmented Congress, where individual members had acquired increased power to influence legislation. The liaison relationship between the State Department and Congress, previously funneled exclusively through a Congressional Relations Bureau, was decentralized, and State Department desk officers consulted with congressional staffs on a regular basis, something scarcely imaginable twenty years earlier. These mid-level policy officials also began to meet with interest group lobbyists as they developed policy proposals for the State Department leadership. Informing, persuading, or lobbying—everyone was doing it.

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