Qatar increases spending on lobby firms in Washington



Thu, 07 Sep 2017 - 09:50 GMT


Thu, 07 Sep 2017 - 09:50 GMT

US Capitol Hill building - Via Wikimedia Commons

US Capitol Hill building - Via Wikimedia Commons

CAIRO- 6 September 2017: Documents released by the U.S. Justice Department indicate that Qatar has employed more than five new public relations and lobby firms for different positions since the beginning of the Gulf rift. The contracts aimed to improve Hamad Al-Thani’s regime’s image in the West.

In 2016, Qatar paid almost $2 million for public relations firms in Washington for advocacy and media outreach. The contracts mainly focused on reaching senior officials in the U.S. presidential campaigns, especially Hilary Clinton’s campaign. However, Doha’s spending on these activities from June till now, solely, may accumulate up to $3 million.

Later, leaks revealed Qatar’s involvement in supporting opposition groups in Bahrain and Egypt, in addition to funding different terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. Following which, on June 5, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain cut their diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar to force Doha to stop supporting terrorism and inciting violence in Arab countries.

Two days after, the four Arab countries cut their relations with Qatar, Doha hired former U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft’s firm as its lobbyist. The deal, which is worth $2.5 million, is only for a period of 90 days and aims to assist Qatar to comply with U.S. money laundering and counter-terrorism finance regulations.

Doha’s move aimed to counter Egypt’s, Saudi Arabia’s, the UAE’s and Bahrain’s decision to label 59 figures and 12 entities on a terrorist list linked to Qatar. The list was updated later in July to include more entities in four countries’ watch list.

According to the contract, Ashcroft’s team works to improve Qatar’s image in Washington by enlisting former government leaders who held senior positions in the Treasury, Homeland Security, the FBI and intelligence community. Their services would be paid for out of the $2.5 million fund, and Ashcroft himself will lead the effort.

“The firm will use its extensive experience and expertise in advising domestic and international clients to evaluate, verify and as necessary, strengthen the client's anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing compliance programs; providing legal advice and recommendations regarding enhancing and improving such efforts,” read the contract.



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In June as well, Doha’s government’s communication office contracted Levick Strategic Communications, a PR firm based in Washington. The firm’s main mission is crisis management; in other words, to mitigate any negative reporting occurring that links Qatar to terrorism.

Levick will conduct ongoing risk-sensing analysis with a focus on American-Qatari relations, create “forward-looking and actionable recommendations,” develop a stakeholder map of policy influencers, key media and third-parties, monitor and analyze information from think tanks and publications, and consult with Qatari officials to ensure clarity of communications, as the contract stated.

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Hiring Levick again was considered a desperate move by Qatar after Doha declined to renew its contract with the company in April 2017 for its allegedly inefficient performance; it signaled Tamim’s need to intensify communications with opinion and think tank leaders in Washington.


While lobbying in the U.S. government and reaching out to the media, Doha also hired the Gallagher Group - another lobby firm - to pressure the U.S. Congress to lobby against other Gulf states or deter any moves against Tamim’s regime from the U.S. legislative branch.

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However, Gallagher was also part of a larger communication strategy with the U.S. Congress led by Mercury, a lobby firm, which led Doha’s efforts to strengthen “Qatar Caucus”, a group of U.S. senators that supports stronger American-Qatari relations.


According to Politico, a U.S. newspaper, two advisors with Mercury met with Republican senator, Lee Zeldin, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Middle East and North Africa subcommittee.

The meeting’s purpose was to persuade Zeldin to help restart the defunct congressional Qatar Caucus, but apparently it wasn’t successful.

“When asked why Zeldin wasn't joining the Caucus, spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena wrote in an email, “The congressman is concerned about Qatar's current relationship with Hamas,”” Politico reported.

Mercury also facilitated meetings between the Qataris and prominent lawmakers to discuss military arms sales, and organized congress staff trips to Qatar.


The increase in lobbying activities by Qatar in Washington is unprecedented, especially since Doha’s allies in the new administration are less than they were during Barack Obama’s administration.

In addition to hiring lobby firms, Qatar has managed to influence think tanks in Washington including Brookings Institution.

The question of Doha’s influence on think tanks was brought into light in September 2014 when The New York Times published an investigative report indicating that Qatar has positioned itself as one of the largest donors to think tanks in Washington.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Qatar signed an agreement with Brookings Institution for a $14.8 million four-year donation in 2013. The donation was for different research activities, including funds for a Brookings’ affiliate in Qatar and a project on U.S. relations with the Islamic world.



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