Landrieu Blocks Bill to Sanction Human Rights Abusers in Venezuela

With the Senate poised to pass a bi-partisan bill imposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials involved in a violent crackdown against peaceful pro-democracy protesters, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu teamed up with Citgo to block the pro-democracy legislation.

As Politico points out, “Citgo has at times been the subject of controversy and boycott threats in the U.S. because of its relationship with Venezuela, especially during the years of friction between the United States and former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.”

Despite assurances that the bill would have no adverse effect on refinery jobs in Louisiana, Landrieu appears to have bowed to pressure to intervene. 

“No need for Senator Landrieu to be concerned about any implications for refineries in Louisiana,” wrote one staffer. “The scope of [the bill] is very narrow. It focuses on individuals that have committed human rights abuses against protesters in the past 6 months, has unlawfully jailed protesters, or supported either of those first two provisions.”  

The bill had been introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). While the Venezuelan government has no lobbying presence in Washington, government-linked Citgo recently retained a team of high-powered and deep-pocketed lobbyists with money ties to Senator Landrieu.

Citgo is a wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company.

Citgo … hired two powerhouse D.C. lobbying shops in May — the same month that the House passed its own version of the sanctions bill.

Citgo hired the firms Squire Patton Boggs and Cornerstone Government Affairs — paying the two firms a whopping $450,000 in combined lobbying fees in the second quarter of 2014. It also has long had the firm Grayling representing it in Washington, and paid it $100,000 in the same quarter.

Squire Patton Boggs, in particular, has had a long relationship with Landrieu. Former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux — who co-chairs the firm’s lobbying practice — served in the Senate with her. The Squire Patton Boggs PAC and the firm’s employees have together given more than $75,000 in donations to the Louisiana Democrat over the years, making the firm her seventh largest benefactor, according to numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

A spokesman for Landrieu said neither Breaux nor any other Squire Patton lobbyists distributed the talking points or intervened in the case, but did not respond to questions about which firms or Citgo executives it was working with on the sanctions issue.