K Street is, of course, shorthand for DC’s influence industry. The thousands of lobbyists, PR flacks and media advisors who help special interests, associations and businesses navigate the corridors of DC power. They also do considerable work for foreign governments who are eager to maintain good relations with the United States. Two big DC firms certainly earned their monthly retainers this week as they worked furiously to defuse the new Libyan Government’s PR nightmare over the Benghazi consulate raid.
The Hill reports:
Libya’s fledgling government is getting an assist from K Street as it deals with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador to the country dead.
Firms in Washington have helped Libya get its message of apology and regret out after the killings of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.
Patton Boggs and the Harbour Group, which have represented the new Libyan government before it came to power by overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi, helped arrange press interviews for Libya Ambassador to the U.S. Ali Aujali in the hours after it was learned that Stevens had died.
Now, I think lobbyists and PR flacks are over vilified in politics today. I’ve been both in my life and, while there are certainly a fair number of oily practitioners, most are hard-working professionals. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with the Libyan Government having consultants working on their image in America. With billions of dollars in annual aid from the U.S. at stake, it isn’t surprising that the Libyans want to try to maintain good relations.
That said, this bit from the report caught me by surprise:
Patton Boggs first signed a $50,000 monthly contract with the then-Libyan rebels in May 2011, just months after the first protests took place against Gadhafi, and have continued to represent the new government.
Gadhafi didn’t fall until October of 2011. In May, the NATO airstrikes had just gotten under way and the rebels were clinging to power in a few towns in eastern Libya. They were engaged in a violent rebellion against a repressive dictator and it was very unclear how events would unfold. To me, signing up a DC lobbying firm would be pretty far down the list of priorities in the middle of a civil war. This is interesting.
It goes without saying that $50k a month is a fairly robust contract. I’m curious what Patton Boggs was doing for the then-rebels before they took power. Who did they contact and whom did they lobby. The Libyans are also paying $15k a month to the Harbour Group, giving them a very strong presence in DC.
Again, there is nothing patently unseemly in any of this, but it is curious. It is also a revealing glimpse into the world of DC influence. The real corruption in Washington isn’t the lobbyists and PR flacks per se, but the fact that government throws billions of taxpayer dollars around the economy and around the world. It is entirely rational for companies and even foreign governments to invest in an army of consultants to get a piece of the government’s treasury. That this army can also help-out when a diplomatic crisis erupts is just lagniappe.