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Lobbying by Foreign Countries Decreases

Foreign countries are spending less to lobby America’s federal government, according to a new report released by the Department of Justice.

The latest figures show governmental organizations from more than 130 countries spent less than $460 million in 2010 lobbying Congress and the executive branch as well as promoting their interests though public relations campaigns. This marks a decrease of almost 6 percent compared with 2009, when these lobbying expenditures totaled $486.9 million, according to the DOJ report.

The decrease mirrors a decline in domestic lobbying as America’s corporations, nonprofits and labor unions also cut back in 2010 as the sluggish economy was felt on K Street.

American special interests from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to General Electric Co. report their lobbying spending quarterly to Congress. The amounts spent by foreign countries are collected semiannually by the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and reported to Congress.

These somewhat-dated semiannual reports are snapshots of lobbying disclosure filings that can later be amended, but they still provide the best comprehensive measurement of foreign lobbying.

Some of the biggest decreases in lobbying spending came from a few Caribbean countries, which together cut their spending by almost $31 million.

Leading the way was the Cayman Islands, which curtailed its spending by more than $13 million to just over $8.1 million in 2010. The Cayman Islands spent most of this money to promote tourism with travel shows, conferences and seminars.

But FARA records also show some lobbying that appears to respond to the Obama administration’s criticism of corporate banking in the country to evade taxes.

The Cayman Islands spent $30,000 on the promotion of investments in the country and media research on “tax havens, offshore banking” and “private equity.”  A few months later, its lobbyists contacted U.S. government officials, including the “Internal Revenue Service regarding the foreign account reporting provisions of the HIRE Act,” a 2010 law creating tax incentives for hiring recently unemployed workers.

The Bahamas also slashed almost $11.2 million from its American lobbying and public relations budget last year — falling from $48.2 million to $37.1 million. While it was a significant cut, the country still spent the third-largest amount among foreign nations in 2010. The Bahamas had held the top position in 2009. All of the Bahamas lobbying reports listed spending money to promote tourism. Jamaica also dialed back its expenses last year by 68 percent, spending just $3.1 million in 2010.

One of the countries outside the Caribbean to withdraw much of its lobbying expenses during 2010 was Iraq. The country’s new government sliced its lobbying in half from 2009, spending only $5.2 million last year as the U.S. continued to wind down its military operations there. 

Iraq spent much of its funds to facilitate “meetings with members of Congress and congressional staff as well as executive branch agencies,” including the departments of Defense and Commerce, according to the DOJ’s semiannual reports.

Lobbying groups helped represent Iraq to restructure its debt, while some lobbyists also aided in creating positive promotional and educational activities between the DOD and the Coalition for Iraqi National Unity.

While several countries and foreign interests spent less in 2010, other countries, including a couple in West Africa, spent significantly more last year. Liberia, for example, boosted its lobbying outlays by about 36 percent to become the largest-spending country in 2010 with $45.9 million.

As is often the case with foreign countries, those with little often have to lobby the most. Liberia has endured several economic issues during the past decade, including a civil war. In 2010, it lobbied Congress on debt relief, litigation and defense issues.

Cote d’Ivoire, commonly known as the Ivory Coast, came out of nowhere to spend $6.1 million in 2010, according to the DOJ. The country, located on Liberia’s southern border, spent just $56,000 in 2009.

The Marshall Islands also spent more, boosting its spending by 135 percent last year as its lobbying expenditures rose to almost $8.8 million in 2010.

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