DC lobbyists have a bad rep – but that’s mostly because they work on behalf of special interests, often against the public good. But what about their connections with foreign governments? One egregious case is Equatorial Guinea, where American lobbyists have worked on behalf of an oppressive regime.
Equatorial Guinea is a small country that sits on the Western coast of Africa. This country rarely appears in the news but its dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and his family, are notorious for enormous corruption. Forbes magazine estimates that Obiang’s fortune amounts to as much as $600 million. In one of the world’s poorest countries, it’s not too hard to imagine where his fortune is coming from, especially since Obiang took full control of the country’s treasury in 2003. Equatorial Guinea is a significant oil producer, flushing its treasury with vast sums of money that then gets siphoned to Obiang and his family. The extensive corruption that permeates the country blocks any trickle down of oil revenues to average citizens.
A large portion of Equatorial Guinea’s oil production goes to the United States, which means that Obiang has deep ties in Washington. This includes substantial amounts of money spent by Obiang and American oil corporations such ExxonMobil on DC lobbyists and PR firms who work to improve the dictatorship’s image abroad.
McDermott Will & Emery LLP is one prominent DC lobbying firm that had significant contracts with President Obiang. This lobbying firm inked a contract worth $2,055,000 for two years of services from December 2009 to December 2011 according to disclosures filed with the Justice Department. The “services” that MWE provided President Obiang included establishing and implementing “an effective U.S. media and political communications plan” that would give Equatorial Guinea, specifically Obiang, a positive image among Americans and the U.S. government.
MWE also stated that one of its services to “His Excellency President Obiang” would be to garner support from American experts and NGOs for the Reform Program that Equatorial Guinea was about to initiate with the goal of fostering a more democratic society. But it seems that Obiang’s money was not well spent – in 2012, Freedom House once again put Equatorial Guinea as one of nine countries on its “Worst of the Worst” list, joining North Korea and Syria. Freedom House’s description of Obiang’s rule: “a highly corrupt regime with one of the worst human rights records in Africa.”
Obviously, MWE is not the only DC lobbying firm that colludes with unsavory foreign figures. Qorvis Communications was also paid $60,000 a month by Obiang to improve his image in the U.S by serving as his “public relations and advertising firm” from August, 2010 to August 2011.
It is disappointing enough to witness the DC influence industry wielding Big Money to corrupt our democracy, but it is downright shameful to see these lobbying firms provide their services to dictators such as Obiang.