Saudi Arabia is hiring a new batch of lobbyists ahead of Biden’s government

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is busy recruiting lobbyists as President-elect Joe Biden, who has indicated he will take a tougher stance on the nation, prepares for his term in office.

With the potential for a more turbulent relationship with the US, Saudi Arabia has hired a number of lobbyists linked to Republican congressional leaders.

These lobbyists may have more success connecting with GOP lawmakers in the new Congress rather than the Democrats or Biden’s government. Republicans made gains in the House of Representatives in the 2020 election and could have a slight lead in the Senate if they win one of the seats up for grabs in two Georgia roundups scheduled for early next month.

Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations during the Democratic primaries last year that he would be cutting back US support for Saudi Arabia on important issues.

“I would end US support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a re-evaluation of our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Biden said at the time. “It is high time to restore a sense of balance, perspective and fidelity to our values ​​in our Middle East relations. President Trump has handed Saudi Arabia a dangerous blank check,” he added.

The kingdom is largely ruled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. NBC News reported in 2018 that he had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, something the Crown Prince has denied. At the time, the president assisted Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s death. The two countries had signed an arms deal of nearly $ 110 billion a year earlier.

The government of Saudi Arabia completed 2018, spending more than $ 30 million on lobbying activities, according to the impartial Center for Responsive Politics. In 2020, expenditures to date were $ 5 million.

A representative from the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

One of the recent hires came through the Larson Shannahan Slifka Group, an Iowa-based public affairs retailer that signed a lucrative contract with the Saudi embassy last year. Also known as the LS2group, in 2019 the embassy agreed to pay it $ 1.5 million for one year.

New records show that LS2 recently brought up the Arena Strategy Group for actions that include “informing the public, government officials and the media about the importance of fostering and fostering strong relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” . lobby report says.

The contract started December 1, weeks after Biden was declared president-elect, and will also include government relations, the document said. The contract is worth about $ 5,000 every month.

Arena’s efforts on government affairs are led by Mark Graul, a Republican political strategist who served as director of the state of Wisconsin for President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. He was also Chief of Staff to the former Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis., When Green was in Congress. Green became the head of the United States Agency for International Development under Trump, but resigned earlier this year.

Graul did not return a request for comment.

The Saudi Arabia Embassy in DC has also recently hired Off Hill Strategies for the period from the latter part of the elections to the transition period.

The company is a boutique lobby shop founded by Tripp Baird, who was once director of government relations at the conservative Heritage Action for America organization. The contract kicked off in late October, with Biden ahead of Trump in nearly all national polls. It also notes that the $ 25,000-a-month deal will run until Jan. 18, two days before Biden is inaugurated.

The focus of Off Hill’s lobbying efforts, according to the contract, is “to support the outreach efforts of the Embassy of Congress and further promote bilateral ties between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. . ” A separate disclosure report on lobbying shows that Off Hill helped Saudi Arabia “gather information on the omnibus laws at the end of the year.”

Baird did not return a request for comment.

In another case, the Saudis turned to a leading public relations firm to support the development of an expensive urban development designed to support the country’s growing international ambitions.

According to a filing, a director of PR juggernaut Edelman emailed a leader of a massive Saudi land development known as Neom to explain their agreement. Jere Sullivan, the company’s vice chairman of Global Public Affairs, told Neom that Edelman would provide strategic advice, media relations, stakeholder identification and engagement, as well as content development.

The agreement will run from mid-November to February, according to the email, and is expected to cost up to $ 75,000 per month.

According to the foreign lobbying disclosure report for Edelman, Neom is “ wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is a sovereign wealth of the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As such, its activities are monitored, directed and monitored. , funded and subsidized by the PIF. “

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that the Neom project is backed by MBS and that the Saudi city-state project is worth $ 500 billion. The Journal reported at the time that MBS hopes by 2030 that this newly developed region will be one of the global hubs for technology, with Saudi leaders believing it could replace the U.S. tech hub Silicon Valley. The projected timeline of completion coincides with Biden’s first term as president and would continue beyond 2024.

Neom’s website says it is “a region in the northwest of Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea that is being built from the ground up as a living laboratory” and that it will “offer a plethora of unique development opportunities given its strategic location. on the Red Sea coast is remarkable for its proximity to international markets and trade routes. “

The group says they expect to complete the project in the next seven to ten years.

Sullivan declined to comment.