Welcome Ben Freeman (Project On Government Oversight – POGO) (HuffingtonPost) and Host Michael K. Busch (MichaelKBusch – blog) (DailyKos)

The Foreign Policy Auction: Foreign Lobbying in America

The influence of foreign money in American politics is hardly a novel concern. Indeed, the very structure of power relations in the global arena—itself dominated by US hegemony—predicts that foreign agents will look to influence the direction of American policy abroad, as Samuel Huntington observed fifteen years ago. “American politics attracts foreign money,” Huntington wrote in Foreign Affairs,

“because the decisions of its government have an impact on people and interests in every other country. The power to attract resources is thus a result of the power to expend them, and the resource inflow is aimed at affecting the direction of the resource outflow.”

And yet, very little academic attention has been directed at the problem. While Stephen Krasner may have famously decried the “organized hypocrisy” of Westphalian state sovereignty—namely, that far from the exception, government meddling in the business of other countries is the norm of international relations—everyone else seems to have taken this recognition as, well, good enough. Even so, it is surprising that so few scholars have bothered to ask how governments mobilize their most effective tool—money—to get what they want from Washington. To be sure, there are notable exceptions. The most well-known study of the effects of foreign lobbying on American policy is John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby, a book better known for the firestorm of controversy it ignited than the substance of its content. Aside from this, however, political scientists and other interested observers have had surprisingly little to say on the topic.

Ben Freeman has gone a long way towards filling that gap. In The Foreign Policy Auction: Foreign Lobbying in America, Freeman unpacks the ways in which governments from around the world attempt to use finance capital to ensure that the sausage factory on Capitol Hill churns out American foreign policy in their favor. The book is unrelentingly thorough, engaging, and sober. “There is no arch-villain here,” Freeman warns at the start, “no dark lord, no one to unmask at the end of the show. There are only politicians seeking reelection, lobbyists seeking more revenue, and foreign governments competing for influence over the most influential government the world has ever known.”

Drawing on an abundance of data that tracks the work of agents advocating the interests of outsiders inside the Beltway, Freeman details the buyers and sellers animating the auction house, and the issues that compete for congressional attention in this foreign policy marketplace. The picture he paints isn’t pretty. The buyers of American foreign policy include some of the shadier characters in world politics, and everything—from the definition to genocide and the suppression of democracy to the trade in nuclear materials—is for sale. The process of influence-purchasing is even worse, and surprisingly straightforward. Lobbyists pay visits to members of congressional to plead their case on behalf of foreign clients. Shortly thereafter—in as little as a few hours in some of the cases Freeman documents—campaign contributions are made to these same congresspeople by these same lobbyists. Those willing to pay hefty sums to the top-flight lobbying firms prowling the corridors of power in Washington tend to get what they want.

Republicans and Democrats are equally prone to influence peddling. So extensive is the bipartisan practice of trading influence for campaign reelection cash in the US Congress that Freeman doesn’t even bother listing party affiliation. Nevertheless, the names that surface are all too familiar. To take but one firm that is focused upon in the book, Freeman finds that lobbyists from DLA Piper contacted and contributed campaign cash to over 20 percent of voting members in Congress. “This is not a randomly selected group of legislators either; the list disproportionately includes the most powerful members of Congress, particularly in the foreign policy realm.” DLA Piper paid into the war chests of heavyweights like Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Mitch McConell, John Boehner and John Kerry. Interestingly, Freeman notes that “The only key party leader missing from this list is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who did not accept, or was not offered, a dime.” Over a hundred others, however, were.

What can be done about all this? Precious little, if recent efforts to amend the system are any indication. When then-Senator Obama, along with Senators Charles Schumer and Claire McCaskill sponsored the “Closing the Foreign Lobbying Loophole Act” in 2008—which would have imposed stricter oversight of foreign powers looking to purchase influence in the US Congress—the bill quickly disappeared without a trace. As Freeman relates, “the bill was read on June 6, 2008 and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, the same Committee on Foreign Relations where all but four representatives had received campaign contributions from foreign lobbyists. Not surprisingly, the bill never made it out of committee.” This, along with numerous other examples throughout the book, lead Freeman to conclude that “politicians value public welfare less than self-interested goals like reelection.”

Still, he’s not completely without hope. For one thing, not all lobbying firms are profit-seeking auctioneers willing to sell their wares to the highest bidder. Effective groups like Independent Diplomat, which often works pro bono to advance the interests of countries otherwise shutout from congressional consideration, offer an alternative model for grabbing American attention where it’s most needed around the world. For another, basic legal reforms, like those proposed in the “Closing the Foreign Lobbying Loophole” bill, would go a long way, Freeman argues, to stemming the tide of foreign influence in American foreign policy decision making. While the powers that be certainly resist these institutional changes, it’s the people that ultimately decide. “In our current hyper polarized political environment,” Freeman suggests, the need to prevent the hijacking of American policy by foreign interests “is one of the few issues upon which nearly all Americans can agree.”

Until then, however, the foreign policy auction will continue to attract agents competing for influence, and worse, the army of lobbyists who fight to ensure they get it. After all, as Freeman himself points out, lobbyists “are in the business of buying foreign policy, and business is good.”


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

89 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Ben Freeman, The Foreign Policy Auction: Foreign Lobbying in America”

BevW December 2nd, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Ben, Welcome to the Lake.

Michael, Welcome back to the Lake, and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Hi Bev! Thanks for having me back. And thanks, as always, for all your work on this, and other salons. It’s much appreicated.

Ben: I wanted to relate how impressive I think the book is. It strikes me that you’ve done the very thing so many wish to, but can’t—produce a piece of scholarship that is at once thoroughly researched *and* a pleasure to read. My compliments.

Elliott December 2nd, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Welcome to the Lake

This is an important book, is there much interest in Congress? – I’m kidding myself aren’t I?

dakine01 December 2nd, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon Ben and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Michael, welcome back.

Ben I have not read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but isn’t it against the law for US politicians to accept campaign contributions from foreign nationals? I seem to recall that being the basis for a few “scandals” over the years.

And if the campaign contributions from foreign nationals is against the law, didn’t the Citizens United decision rather gut that law anyway?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Apologies for arriving late. I had some technical difficulties, which I can only assume were caused by scheming foreign lobbyists ;-)

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Michael, thank you very much for your kind words.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Ha! Welcome, Ben. As you can see, there’s already some questions in the queue. At the risk of overloading, though, let’s jump right in. You argue that the sale of US foreign policy is the result of two converging phenomena: the increased importance of money in American politics, and increased technological connectedness. Can you flesh each of these things out, briefly, and discuss how they intersect to open the doors to foreign influence in US foreign policy?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to Elliott @ 3

Ha, great question Elliott. There is actually some interest in Congress. For example, Frank Wolf (R-VA) recently introduced legislation that would require a 10 year cooling off period before former Reps can become foreign lobbyists. Not too bad if you ask me…

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Hey Dakine, great question. Yes it is against the law for foreign nationals to make campaign contributions. However, foreign lobbying serves as what amounts to a back door for foreign money. Foreign nationals hire DC lobbyists, who then make campaign contributions.

DWBartoo December 2nd, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Thank you for joining us this evening, Ben and Michael.

Which governments, Ben, would you say, do the most seeking for and have the most success in gaining “influence” over US foreign policy?


December 2nd, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Still, he’s not completely without hope.
I’m so glad to read that. There are too many folks, in my little opinion, who have abandoned All Hope.
And, he notes that Freeman suggests, the need to prevent the hijacking of American policy by foreign interests “is one of the few issues upon which nearly all Americans can agree.
So, I guess that makes it easier to understand his hope.
Thanks, so much being here today.
Okay, a hug.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Michael, great question (and one that I wish I had far more time to discuss in the book). Here goes:

With the so called “flattening” of the world – hate that term, but let’s roll with it – foreign governments have an unprecedented amount of information about U.S. politics. Thus, they can know with great certainty when we’re doing something that will affect them.

This past election had more money in it than any previous election. The next will have more than this one. Are campaign finance system is so broken that he who has the most $ usually wins. Foreign nationals know this, and, much more importantly, the lobbyists they hire know this.

Combine these two, and foreign governments can immediately see what policies they’d like to influence and can immediately inject the money to get what they want. It’s tantamount to international bribery – in real time.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to demi @ 11

Demi, I agree. And not only does he have hope, but Ben also has some ideas for how things can be reformed in the name of the public good. Hopefully we’ll get to some of the meat of his proposals later in the discussion.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 10

China is consistently one of the biggest players, as is Japan. Year in and year out, those two are in the top 5. Other countries come and go depending on the issues at stake at that time.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to demi @ 11

Demi, hugs are in short supply when you’re going up against the Big Money DC Machine, so thank you so much!

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:20 pm

That’s really frightening in certain regards, especially when you frame it around the language of bribery, or, as Jack Abramoff termed it (correctly, in my view) “legalized bribery.” So, on to the nuts and bolts of the thing, you demonstrate pretty clearly that the foreign policy auction is largely exploited by a small handful of lobbying outfits that use big time money to literally buy influence on the Hill. The book focuses on two, in particular—DLA Piper and the Livingston Group. Who are these firms, and how do they operate?

eCAHNomics December 2nd, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Since the U.S. does so much to determine the govts of other countries, isn’t turnabout fair play?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:25 pm

The foreign influence industry is definitely spearheaded by a smaller group than lobbying writ large. I chose to look at DLA Piper and the Livingston Group because they were two of the biggest players. DLA Piper is actually the largest law firm in the world (in terms of the number of lawyers on staff). The Livingston Group was founded by former House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Bob Livingston. Long story short, Livingston left Congress after Larry Flynt discovered that he was having an affair while chasting President Clinton for the Lewinsky scandal. Within a year he had a lobbying shop set up, and shortly there after he picked up his first foreign client. And, the rest is history…

Kelly Canfield December 2nd, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Greetings – thanks for being here!

Benjamin – I realize I’m asking for the moon here, since so much of this money is “dark,” but were you able to make some kind of net influence index about the money?

For instance American interests spend x dollars on say, Chinese policy, and China spends y dollars on influencing American policy?

hpschd December 2nd, 2012 at 2:26 pm

r.e. The United States and 10 Pacific Rim nations—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam—are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (Trans-Pacific FTA).

What sort of lobbying activity would be working here?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm

…because of their different composition they function somewhat differently. Livingston has, as you can imagine, remarkable connections which translates to a lot of access and influence for his foreign clients. While DLA doesn’t have anyone on stuff with Livingston’s credentials they’ve got plenty of high profile lobbyists of their own. Basically, they make up for quality with quantity.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 17

Cahn, that’s a wonderful question. The U.S. spends billions of dollars trying to influence other countries. But, technically – and I know this is a big technically – it’s illegal for the U.S. government or businesses to bribe foreign officials. Thus, in my opinion, no one wins when governments are on the take. Whether it’s here in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. And, I’ll keep fighting it wherever it may lie.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 19

Great question, and one that ties into eCAHNomics’s observation, which leads me to ask, Ben, is the extent to which the purchasing of influence in the United States on matters of foreign policy is unique *to* the United States? Is this sort of thing common in other nation-state settings in the same way it is in Washington, DC?

DWBartoo December 2nd, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Ben, Michael suggests the it is your opinion that ” … it’s the people who ultimately decide”, and by that I assume that you mean the citizens of the US, specifically those who vote?

And yet, you then make the comment @12 that the “campaign finance system is so broken that he who has the most $ usually wins.” One assumes that such applies to “she”, as well?

I would go a bit further and suggest that very many who vote, to put it kindly and honestly, are not very well informed, in large part because the media, who are also a part of the political class, btw, have failed utterly in their essential responsibility to inform.

Does this not suggest that until money and better access to information, even things that are hidden as “secret” as much of what you discuss, regarding policy, likely, is among those hidden and secret things, that the “situation” will not much improve? Were the people to know what is done, and done in their names, and how it is influenced by foreign governments and lobbyists, do you think they would be simply sanguine or might you imagine that many would be appalled to learn what is now done, even without considering the consequences, long and short-term of the money-inspired “collusion” and the resultant “influence”?


Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 19

Kelly, thank you. I now have an answer to “What will your second book be about?” =) Seriously now, I do not have that. But, I would REALLY like to. It’s actually easier to track money coming into the U.S. than it is in a place like China, so this project would be very challenging, but immensely worthwhile.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Can you talk a little bit more about who some of these lobbyists are? And to what degree lobbying firms working on behalf of foreign agents are sending out formerly elected officials to purchase influence? There’s a sort-of revolving door here between elected office and getting hired onto the team of one of these lobbying firms, no?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to hpschd @ 20

Free trade agreements (FTAs) are almost always accompanied by immense lobbying pushes. And, this one is no exception. We’ve already seen big money being thrown at this because ultimately the FTA will have a major impact on these economies and affect competition with other countries as well.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Good question, thanks for asking it. Other countries are, fortunately, waking up to the reality that they too have come under the yoke of foreign influence. Many countries, including Israel, Russia, and the UK have either enacted or discussed legislation to regulate foreign influence in their countries. Something, I believe, is long overdue.

hpschd December 2nd, 2012 at 2:37 pm

I guess what I
was wondering is that in the Trans-Pacific talks there are 11 countries negotiating with each other.

That has got to get really interesting. They won’t all want the same thing. Or do they?

DWBartoo December 2nd, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Superb question, Michael, and it suggests a certain self-serving cynicism on the part of those who, having “represented” citizens, “the people”, now happily seek to “represent” other “interests” … some quite inimical, it may be assumed, to the genuine interests of “the people”.


Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Indeed. But as you point out in the book–the lawmakers, on this issue, are the ones directly benefiting from bad practice, which reduces the likelihood that reform will be forthcoming, and at the very least will be difficult to enact. What do you see as some of the more productive, and politically feasible, ways forward to getting foreign influence over American policy decision making under control?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 24

DW, that’s a great point. I completely agree with you. The political media is, with some noteworthy exceptions, doing a disservice to this nation. The biases are readily apparent. The coverage poor or superfluous.

I spend my days here in DC doing everything I can to expose corruption and waste because I believe if the people know what’s going on they’ll be outraged – like I usually am every day.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:40 pm

The foreign influence industry is loaded with former big shots from both parties. Bob Dole is a foreign lobbyist. So is Dick Gephardt. Bob Livingston, whom I’ve mentioned. And, there’s dozens more representatives working for foreign governments in the U.S.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to hpschd @ 29

Hpschd, oh I see your question now, and you’re absolutely right. It’s getting REALLY interesting. They are fighting over every little thing. This, incidentally, is why I refer to this as the foreign policy auction. What I’ve seen in almost all of the cases like this is that countries battle over who will exert the most influence over U.S. foreign policy and, more often than not, the country that shells out the most money wins. I don’t expect the outcome of this FTA to be any different.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Following up on this, this is one of the more curious features of this whole phenomenon, as far as I can tell. That is, the stuff you document in the book is frequently shocking and outrageous (and I am not using those terms lightly). And yet, there’s virtually no attention given over to it, in both the media, nor in more scholarly circles. How is that? I would have thought the scoop would be more than juicy enough to inspire an investigative report or two. Thoughts about this?

eCAHNomics December 2nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm

You have to include the overthrows of foreign govts that the U.S. does. 55 tries, many successful, according to William Blum since WWII.

Don’t want to divert topic from your expertise, but I’ve been wanting to ask that Q for years.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Michael, this is my favorite question about the foreign influence industry. The final chapter of The Foreign Policy Auction lays out a number of proposals for helping us to regain control of our own foreign policy. There’s a litany of things that need to happen so I’ll just focus on the high notes. 1. Ban lobbyists from giving money to politicians they contact on behalf of foreign governments. I found far too many instances of lobbyists given money to Reps on the exact same day they met with them to discuss the needs of dictators. This, at the very least, looks like dictators are bribing U.S. officials. This MUST stop. 2. Dramatically increase enforcement of foreign lobbying regulations. Currently, the system relies largely upon “voluntary compliance.”

hpschd December 2nd, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I also note that Japan and China are conspicuously absent from the Trans-Pacific list.

Plus, the US, Canada, and Mexico already have a trade agreement – NAFTA.

December 2nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm

To my mind, it’s always about making money. Money is influence that later will make more money. We all know that, don’t we?
Except, I am one of those who holds out hope. Hope for people being educated about how it is, so that their Vote might make some positive affect.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Michael, I couldn’t agree more – people everywhere should be buying The Foreign Policy Auction! =)

Seriously, it actually really surprised me when I began writing this book that so little had been done on the topic. I was a political scientist and actually had to look towards work done by economists to find ANY published academic work on the topic.

As for the mainstream medias lack of focus, I have a theory that centers around them benefiting immensely from the industry. Foreign governments hire PR firms that place ads in all the major mainstream outlets. And, many of the PR and lobbying shops are filled with former media folks. So, the media, in a sense, is also just any brick in the foreign influence wall.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to demi @ 39

Demi, I like your spirit! And, I actually think there is some cause for hope in the foreign influence industry, despite the current state of affairs. My biggest hope in writing the book was that this issue couldn’t stay hidden any longer. At least now these Reps know that we’re watching what they do with dictators.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I get the same sense. That, and media outlets are scaling back their funding for deep, investigative reporting, seems to me. The combination of these two factors doesn’t bode well for shining a spot light on these practices.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 36

Absolutely agree. Unfortunately, I’ve been unsuccessful thus far in getting a $ figure for the amount the U.S. spends in all its own foreign influence efforts. But, I’d be willing to bet that we outspend anyone else, by far.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Quick question on this: Can you give us a sense of what the foreign lobbying industry would look like if campaign contributions from lobbyists to elected officials were banned outright? Would governments even bother with them, or do you think they would focus their resources on more traditional diplomatic channels and practices?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Definitely. Times are tough for a lot of media outlets, so they’re becoming less-and-less willing to bite the hands that feed. This is all too common in trade publications that cover the Department of Defense. Most of the “investigative” work done by these journalists is little more than Pentagon propaganda.

Kelly Canfield December 2nd, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Benjamin – saw your earlier response – LOL!

Seriously though in reponse to this comment you made at #40, media PR buys certainly are an issue, and can be easily “hidden” in that dark money pool. Which brings me to another question.

Say we could actually, after much labor, create a net influence index. After doing so, certainly efforts by the players would be made to hide such monies.

That leads a reasonable person to think, “Well, aren’t they doing that now?” So much like hawala banking, don’t you think a lot of influence is peddled via that type of technique?

And how much of the total do you think is done by an opaque 3rd party transfer compared to what you could actually determine by find-able data?

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 46

Ben, it looks like you’ve found yourself a research assistant! ;)

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm

In the world where foreign lobbyists can’t make contributions to elected officials I believe foreign governments would devote considerably more resources to their own diplomatic corps. Foreign governments would still hire some lobbyists and PR firms, just not to the same extent they do now. Because, quite simply, lobbyists that don’t make campaign contributions aren’t nearly as effective. Despite what any talking head may say, money gets access, and access can lead to influence.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Fair enough. My other concern, then, would be that bans on contributions might create opportunities for increased corruption, engaged with by all parties. After all, the portraits you paint of these actors–foreign dictators, lobbyists who advocate for the highest bidders (whoever they may be), and American politicians desperate to gain reelection (and other perks)–aren’t exactly the most scrupulous bunch. Do you worry about this, or am I failing to consider other factors that ameliorate this concern?

December 2nd, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Bravo to you! I have a friend, who I met when we were in jr. high together. Peace protests. Sitting down during the pledge of allegiance.
You know.
He’s now a whistle blower author and so I have a warm place in my heart for folks like you.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 46

Kelly, very good questions. Because foreign lobbying flew so far under the radar previously, I feel as though I caught some of these firms off guard. The filing requirements are substantial for foreign lobbyists and, being the data-geek that I am, I was able to connect a lot of dots. Unfortunately, now they know we’re watching, so they may start – shall we say – monitoring their disclosures more.

There are quite a few examples of firms skirting the law and not filing, as you mentioned. And, we’ll likely see more foreign money sneaking into elections because of Citizens United. There was already a case with a Canadian company this year. But, I personally believe this type of bribery is like roaches – for every one you see there’s another 20 behind the wall.

Kelly Canfield December 2nd, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Ha ha! Nope! Thankless job! :)

(Not to derail this Salon, but already working with 2 other programmers on the data at http://stations.fcc.gov/ to figure out just US Election spending, and how to make such an index as I described, but by markets. And THAT is tough enough given that that data is there already, just in weird/inconsustent formats)

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Hooray for research assistants!

DWBartoo December 2nd, 2012 at 3:07 pm

When one examines the “cross-pollination, Ben, it becomes very evident that what is occurring is not some happenstance “event”, but a calculated intent which allows the “movement” between various jobs, as we see military officers serving as media experts and lobbyists for defense “contractors”, Wall Street actors becoming financial “regulators”, and this even extends, happily to academia, where former “authors” of “policies” which legitimized torture, are being offered tenured positions at prestigious universities …

In other words, the problem is completely “systemic” and will require major rectification, if not a total rebuilding. As both legacy political parties are in the thick of it, until and unless third parties may find some way to meaningfully challenge the two-party “system”, it is quite unrealistic to imagine that any truly serious changes may come about simply by voting for greater or lesser evils.

On top of that, we face environment dangers of a magnitude that none of the “players” whom we are discussing have any apparent and genuine interest in facing or honestly apprising the people about …

In all then, we face a “perfect storm” of the failure of the Rule of Law and the intentional dismantling of civil society … to the deliberate benefit of a very few … and I consider that we must view this in its larger context if we are to make any headway in encouraging understanding and the actions which that understanding must require.


Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Very good points, Michael. Lobbyists, particularly ex-lobbyists, like Abramoff, often say that they’ll find a way to game the system no matter what. To a certain extent I believe them. At least, I believe they will try. Even if you ban contributions they’ll still end up holding fundraisers, and as lobbyists have pointed out to me “We can only contribute so much, but there’s no limit on what we can fundraise.”

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 52

Wow! That sounds like a herculean task. Good luck to you, and please keep at. Really important work!

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 52

Very interesting, Kelly. I’ll have to give this a lookover.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I was actually wondering about the question of response to your book, and work generally: have the firms answered any of your criticisms or let you know how they, um, feel, since the publication of the book?

hpschd December 2nd, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I am wondering if AIPAC is a special case – is there more than money involved in some of these negotiations.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 54

DW, very well said. I agree with your analysis, even if, for better-or-worse, I’m a hopeless optimist.

As you said, if we are to meaningfully move forward, it’s important for people to truly understand the incentives that drive our current political system.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Unfortunately, neither DLA Piper or the Livingston Group responded to requests for comment before or after publication of the book. Off the record, let’s just say I’ve received some discourteous comments from some in the foreign influence industry. Which, just made me want to write more…
So I continue to write about the foreign influence industry for http://www.pogo.org. And, we’re also planning to release a large foreign influence database this January, that I’m sure will ruffle some more feathers.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 3:21 pm

That’ll be fun to peruse!

DW’s comment about the dismantling of civil society got me thinking about other outfits that lobbby for the small fries of international relations, groups like Independent Citizen, which you touch on in the book. Can you talk to us about how these groups, which don’t concern themselves with profit, operate in Washington. Without the financial fire power of the big houses, how do they grab attention on the Hill? Are they successful?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to hpschd @ 59

hpschd, AIPAC is a special case in that it is, technically, not a foreign lobby, it’s an ethnic-American lobby. There’s a small, but critical, distinction here that determines what type of information groups have to report to the government. If you’re a foreign government, political party, or foreign government owned business, you have to register under what’s know as the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It has far more stringent reporting requirements than the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), which American and foreign businesses, and all U.S. domestic groups have to file under. Because AIPAC is run and funded by U.S. citizens it must file under the LDA.

bigbrother December 2nd, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Thank you for this work Ben, The Foreign Policy Auction really shines a light on our Captured Democracy. Everything is for sale. Talk a bit about the “Free Trade” agreements please and how that works against American labor and consumers please. I can’t wait to read this book which has great reviews by so many.

Kelly Canfield December 2nd, 2012 at 3:24 pm

And, we’re also planning to release a large foreign influence database this January, that I’m sure will ruffle some more feathers.

Sweet! Does it go into clients?

Piggybacking off of Michael’s #58, did any DLA Piper/Livingstone clients try to get under your skin?

Also about clients, what about the state of, let’s call them” stateless multinationals? I mean the Big Oil players for instance.

Do you think that firms like DLA actually offer real benefit when it comes to those powers playing in the auction? Because how do those guys really manage their influencing activities since they don’t really have one single home?

DWBartoo December 2nd, 2012 at 3:26 pm

“… discourteous comments”, ah, then you’ve struck well and deeply, Ben.

By all means, continue!

Ruffled feathers are a beautiful thing, as well as closely related to certain fowl coming “home” for the roosting …


Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Thanks for bringing up some of the “good guys” in the book, Michael. While they’re few and far better they provide a model of how honest foreign influence can work to create better outcomes for the U.S. and people in foreign countries.

Independent Diplomat http://www.independentdiplomat.org/ is non-profit organization that works, often pro-bono, to represent some of the poorest countries in the world for the U.S., the U.N., and other governmental bodies around the world. They were founded by a former British diplomat who worked at the U.N. – a rare revolving door example that’s actually in the public interest. They closed their DC office, unfortunately, so I’m not sure how effective they are here now.

However, another foreign lobbyists has been remarkably successful here – the Dalai Lama. His Holiness is one of the most long serving foreign lobbyists – he’s been registered for nearly 4 decades. And, needless to say, he gets significant exposure. But, this hasn’t actually led to any meaningful U.S. policy change regarding Tibet. So, even the Dalai Lama has an uphill climb in the foreign influence world.

DWBartoo December 2nd, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I should very much like to hear more about these groups, Micheal.


Dearie December 2nd, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Benjamin, can you point to anything specific that encourages your optimism regarding the situations you address in your book?

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm

I was actually thinking about the Dalai Lama. How much money does China throw at firms to beat back pressure from him? Is it significant enough that the Dalai Lama’s presence actually contributes, indirectly, to the ballooning amounts of cash streaming from Beijing into the coffers of DLA Piper, Livingston, and other groups, and then on into the campaign war chests of members of congress?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 64

Thanks Big Brother, glad you’re watching – er reading I mean.

As we know, many of these FTA’s are jobs-killers. There is so much hyperbole in D.C. right now about the fiscal cliff and the threat to jobs, yet, just last year, we signed three trade agreements that will ultimately cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of jobs. I investigated the South Korea, Panama, and Colombia trade agreements and found that a few million dollars worth of foreign money basically turned these floundering deals into U.S. in the span of a couple years. You can read the write-up here http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2011/10/the-price-of-free-trade-how-lobbyists-helped-salvage-three-floundering-free-trade-agreements.html

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to Dearie @ 69

I’ll admit, there’s much to be discouraged about in the foreign lobbying industry, and really money-in-politics generally. However, there have actually been proposals from both sides of the aisle that would work to fight foreign influence. Frank Wolf (R-VA) introduced the Foreign Lobbying Reform Act and then Senator Obama co-sponsored legislation that would close an important loophole in the foreign influence statute.

As I mention in the book, it’s a bipartisan issue both in the corruption and the need to solve the problem. So, I have hope that, with enough attention, we can close the Auction.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Michael, just when I get done writing the “There’s still hope!” response, you bring me right back to Earth… ;-)

Seriously, you’re probably absolutely right. The Dalai Lama’s spending and influence is completely overshadowed by both the amount China spends and the country’s importance to the U.S. economically, politically, and militarily.

DWBartoo December 2nd, 2012 at 3:41 pm

My hat is off to Independent Diplomat, Ben.

I consider that the Dalai Lama’s is a voice which is widely heard and much respected, especially among those of “the people” who have understanding of the larger world “stage”. I hope that some of the non-profit groups you encourage might also seek to inform larger audiences and thereby influence bottom-up demand, more effectively, for better policies and outcomes.

Rapidly, our collective plight as human beings, requires the ability of all the world’s people to come to recognize, appreciate, and respect each other.

For our common interests far outweigh the “differences” which political classes the world over would have us all “believe” are worthy of endless warfare and sanctions of hate.

A rational diplomatic corps, among all nations, might realize that options beyond war and strife would not only be a “good thing” … but the ONLY thing that may permit our continued survival, as a species, on this wee planet, which, for all of our better and more honest human “purposes”, ought well be seen as paradise … at least considering the immensity of universe and the fact that the Earth is our only home.

My appreciation to you for showing us glimpses of that better, more rational, more humane and sustainable “way”.


Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Sorry! :)

Shifting gears slightly, but staying on a hopeful note (hopefully): Are there any members of Congress who manage to keep themselves above the fray, who refuse to accept contributions from these firms? If so, who are they? And how do we explain this if, in fact, the model of self-interested rational action drives policymakers to seek out money in order to secure reelection?

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 65

Hey Kelly, sorry I missed this one.

Strangely, I have not heard a peep from DLA, Livingston, or any of their clients.

The multinationals pose some immense challenges for insuring that foreign money isn’t getting into U.S. politics. Employees of a multinational based in the U.S. can start an Employee PAC, fund it with money they get from the foreign company, and the make A LOT of contributions with it. Usually the PAC is run by a higher up in the company, and is explicitly designed to promote issues of importance to the company. This is, in my humble opinion, yet another back door for foreign money to get into U.S. politics.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:51 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 74

DW, thank you so much for your kind words and vision. For non-profit watchdog groups in D.C. every day is another David v. Goliath battle. Our only hope is to create a better, more effective, and accountable government.

BevW December 2nd, 2012 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Ben, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and all your research on foreign policy and the needed government oversight.

Michael, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Ben’s website (POGO) and book (The Foreign Policy Auction)

Michael’s website (Michael K. Busch)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Very good question. There actually are quite a few individuals who haven’t taken any money, or haven’t taken much from foreign lobbyists. On the right, there’s Frank Wolf, whom I’ve mentioned, and on the left Nancy Pelosi doesn’t receive much from foreign lobbyists. Obviously, Pelosi, as Speaker, is a very big player, so there’s at least some anecdotal evidence that you don’t have to take money from foreign lobbyists to survive.

On the foreign lobbyists side of the equation, I also found several instances of lobbyists, who had meetings with dozens of legislators, and didn’t make a single campaign contribution to them, or anyone for that matter. So, there’s some evidence that even as a lobbyist you can get things done without resorting to quid pro quo.

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thanks, Ben! Thanks, Bev! And thanks to all the contributors to the discussion and those of you who followed along. It was fun and informative, as always.

hpschd December 2nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thanks all, interesting stuff!

The Toronto Library system does not have this book, so I’ll put in a request. They will often stock multiple copies.

Benjamin Freeman December 2nd, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to BevW @ 78

Bev, thank you very much for having me in the Salon! The questions were great, and the discussion was exemplary. Now, let’s close the Auction!


DWBartoo December 2nd, 2012 at 3:59 pm

This has been a truly excellent Book Salon, Ben, and I thank you and Michael for sharing time with us an hope that you both might, when time and opportunity permit, stop by and speak with us on any post which catches your interest or fancy.

My thanks to Bev, as always.

And my continuing appreciation to all the freedom fighters who gather here, in mutual support and encouragement.


Elliott December 2nd, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Thank you all

this really is a plague upon our nation

bigbrother December 2nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm

A good guy/girl list…if you are not on it shame on you!!

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 83

Thanks, DW. Hope to see you again soon!

Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 4:03 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 85


Michael K. Busch December 2nd, 2012 at 4:04 pm
In response to Elliott @ 84

Thanks for your participation, Elliott. Hope to see you here again soon…

bigbrother December 2nd, 2012 at 4:20 pm

The Shadow Government!

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