By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK (IDN) – Cash money makes things happen. That’s an expression taken from the Urban Dictionary but it may also be the hope of Atiku Abubakar, candidate for President of Nigeria with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which just hired Donald Trump’s lobbying firm at an astronomical price.
Abubakar was Nigeria’s vice president from 1999 to 2007 and a former ally of current president Muhammadu Buhari.
Led by Brian Ballard of Ballard Partners – a veteran Florida lobbyist who raised money for Trump’s campaign and inauguration – the company is expected to help in ensuring the success of Abubakar as Nigeria’s president in 2019 general election. The firm will earn $90,000 monthly (N31.5 million) for its services.
The contract which is expected to last for a year will cumulatively fetch the firm a sum of N400 million (above $1 million) at the end of the period
While politicians spend huge sums to boost their chances at the ballot box, Nigeria has just overtaken India in extreme poverty, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock and compiled by the Brookings Institute.
An estimated 87 million Nigerians, or around half of the country’s population, are thought to be living on less than $1.90 a day.
The largest oil producer in Africa, Nigeria still struggles to translate its resource wealth into rising living standards, notes CNN in a recent feature story.
According to a published copy of the contract, Ballard Partners will advocate for the Client before the U.S. government including, but not limited to, enhancement of U.S.-Nigerian relations; strengthening and advancing democratic values and the rule of law in Nigeria, with a special focus in the coming months on maintaining political and security conditions free of intimidation and interference in order to ensure the success and fairness of Nigeria’s national election for president in 2019.
“This contract is entered into between the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria (“the Client”), Plot l970 Michael Okpara Street, Wuse Zone 5, Abuja, and Ballard Partners, Inc. (“the Firm”), 601 13th Street NW, Suite 450N, Washington, D. C. 20005,” the agreement read. A former Nigeria Aviation minister, Osita Chidoka signed the contract on behalf of the PDP.
“It shall be the Client’s duty to provide the Firm the information necessary to best represent the Client. It shall also be the Client’s duty to timely compensate the Firm for its services.
Interestingly, the Nigerian ruling party – the All Progressive Party (APC) – engaged in 2014 the services of AKPD Media and messages, a top U.S. firm that also worked for the former U.S. president Barrack Obama to help in the 2015 election.
According to the contract, the firm will also be expected to strengthen democratic values in the West African nation, maintain secure conditions in Nigeria during elections.
“It shall be the Firm’s duty to consult with the Client and advocate on its behalf those issues the client deems necessary and appropriate before the U.S. Federal government.”
Ballard is closer to the U.S. president than perhaps any other lobbyist in town, writes the online news site Politico.
“He’s parlayed that relationship into a booming business helping clients get their way with the Trump administration — and his clients and even some of his rivals say his firm has a better grasp of what’s going on in the West Wing than almost anyone else,” the online magazine said in October in a report.
“I’m proud of our association with the administration,” Ballard told USA TODAY. “But we strive diligently to prove our worth based on merits, not on who did what during the campaign. That’s in the past.
The political consulting firm that supported APC was co-founded by David Axelrod, a confidant of President Obama. He was a chief campaign adviser to Obama during the campaign for the presidency in 2008 and was later appointed as senior presidential advisor.
Another U.S. firm Levick, led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s confidant Lanny Davis, was hired by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan in a consultancy deal with the News Agency of Nigeria in 2014.
A USA TODAY analysis found that lobbying firms managed by former campaign aides, fundraisers and others with ties to President Trump and Vice President Pence have collected at least $28 million in federal lobbying fees since Trump assumed the presidency.
Although Trump campaigned on a pledge to “drain the swamp” of Washington special interests, his former political aides and other figures in his orbit are building larger profiles in the world of Washington influence he criticized.
In all, registered lobbyists with ties to Trump and Pence have leadership roles in at least 10 firms in Washington, a USA TODAY review shows.
Other federal lobbyists with growing client lists and ties to the administration include Pence’s former chief of staff Bill Smith, whose clients include AT&T; Victor Smith, who served as Pence’s commerce secretary in Indiana; and Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign aide who built a firm with a roster of domestic and deep-pocketed international clients.
Their lobbying activity is legal, and a spending surge is common when a new president enters the White House.
Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen faces scrutiny about the big sums his shell company, Essential Consultants, received from blue-chip firms for insights into the administration.
Since Trump’s election, Cohen has received more than $2.3 million in payments from corporate clients, including $600,000 from telecom giant AT&T and $1.2 million from Swiss-based drugmaker Novartis.
Cohen, the target of a criminal investigation in New York about his business dealings, is not registered as a lobbyist and instead cast himself as a consultant in reaching the closed-door deals.
Of Trump allies who went the lobbying route, Ballard has been among the most successful. His firm has pulled in nearly $14 million in lobbying fees since it began its Washington operations in February 2017 and has represented more than 70 federal lobbying clients, including online retail giant Amazon, reports filed with Congress show.
Ballard Partners ranks as Washington’s 11th-largest lobbying operation by revenue, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics and boasts several well-known Democrats on staff, including former Florida congressman Robert Wexler.
In addition to its growing roster of domestic clients, Ballard’s firm attracts international attention.
Records maintained by an arm of the Justice Department that monitors foreign lobbying activity show Ballard’s firm signed a one-year contract worth as much as $2.1 million with the government of Qatar. Ballard said the work is focused mostly on potential Qatari investments in Florida
Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser who oversees a lobbying firm and global consultancy, is earning even more from Qatar through a contract he signed last July as tensions between Qatar and its neighbors worsened.
Qatar has waged an intense lobbying campaign to win over the Trump administration amid a regional dispute with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and its other neighbors.
Federal records show Qatar agreed to pay Bennett’s firm $150,000 a month — or $1.8 million over a year. But the government boosted that to $500,000 a month for a four-month period late last year, delivering $2 million to Bennett’s Avenue Strategies Global between September and December of 2017.
In a surprise move last June, Trump sided with Saudi Arabia and three other Gulf nations in their efforts to isolate Qatar. In tweets, Trump indicated that his push to end the funding of “radical ideology” prompted the four-state embargo against the oil-rich Qatar.
Bennett said he was meeting with Qatari officials in Doha when Trump’s tweets landed.
“It freaked them out,” he said of the response by officials in Qatar. “It was a baptism. I just calmed them down and said, ‘This is bark, not bite.’ “
As Qatar’s lobbying efforts intensified, Trump’s views about Qatar softened. In October, he praised the country as a partner in the fight against terrorism during a White House meeting with its leader, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
On October 31 The Washington Post and The Intercept reported that Cohen unsuccessfully solicited $1 million from Qatar. It was the first known overture by Cohen to a foreign government since the 2016 election.
Fred Wertheimer, who oversees the watchdog group Democracy 21, said the race to make money off Trump connections mirrors the president’s decision to retain ownership of his real estate and branding empire while serving in the White House.
“When the tone is ‘I’m going to make money off my administration,’ how can I complain about anyone else doing it?” he said.
Ballard’s firm has contracts with foreign interests that could yield more than $8 million on top of the $14 million it collected in federal lobbying fees from February 2017 through March this year.
Those clients range from the government of Turkey to the tourism arm of the Maldives, which is working to repair relations with the United States amid international alarm over its crackdown on opposition leaders.
The Maldives’ exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed has become an international cause célèbre and was represented by Amal Clooney, the high-profile human rights lawyer married to actor George Clooney.
Ballard Partners inked a $50,000-a-month deal with Maldives Marketing and Public Relations on February 11, days after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency. Yameen took the action when the country’s Supreme Court tossed out convictions against nine opposition figures imprisoned or forced into exile, including Nasheed.
Wexler, the former Florida congressman, represents the Maldives for Ballard Partners and said the situation in the Maldives isn’t “black and white.”
His job, he said, includes making the case to State Department officials that the United States needs “to enjoy a strong relationship with the duly elected government” there as China increases its investments and influence in the nation of islands southwest of India.
The USA TODAY review shows Barnes & Thornburg, where longtime Pence ally Bob Grand serves as managing partner, seeing big growth in the Trump era.
The firm took in nearly $5.5 million in lobbying fees last year — the most it has earned in Washington lobbying in a single year and more than double its lobbying receipts from 2016, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Clients, ranging from U.S. Steel to the drug industry’s trade association, paid $1.6 million to the firm during the first three months of this year, congressional records show. [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 November 2018]
Photo: Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Credit: National Daily.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
facebook.com/IDN.GoingDeeper – twitter.com/InDepthNews