Japan Taps Lobbyists to Bolster U.S. Ties

Posted April 27, 2015 at 4:13pm

The government of Japan knows its way around K Street.

In the months leading up to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Washington this week, the country spent more than $1.2 million on lobbying, law and public relations firms, according to documents filed with the Justice Department.

As the country navigates numerous policy issues, including a massive trade deal with the United States, it relies on the hired help of such firms as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Hogan Lovells and the Podesta Group. Japan enlisted the Daschle Group, the firm of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., just this month.

“This is a big week — the first time in over 50 years that a Japanese prime minister has addressed a joint session of Congress,” said Akin Gump partner Scott Parven. “It comes at a critical time geopolitically and economically. It’s a good time to reinforce the critical nature of the alliance to the Hill and to stakeholders in Washington.”

K Street operators, such as Parven, offer on-the-ground intelligence about Congress and the executive branch that diplomats and other Japanese officials might otherwise miss. They also help forge ties and set up meetings with government officials, think tank policy wonks, corporate lobbyists and journalists.

“Their ambassador and staffs often aren’t as wired as K Street firms,” said James Thurber, who runs American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, about foreign countries’ lobbying in general. “Ambassadors don’t always know how to bring people together that have the same message and to build coalitions.”

Masato Otaka, a spokesman for the embassy, said in an email that Japan’s lobbyists “gather information on the political situations and developments in the U.S.”

Abe during his trip will discuss the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and other tricky policy issues with President Barack Obama, and he will take center stage on Capitol Hill with his address to Congress on Wednesday.

Even policy opponents of Japan and the TPP deal on K Street say the visit is pivotal, especially as Congress considers fast-track trade authority aimed at helping prime the Hill for TPP and other potential deals.

“It’s a critical visit for Abe and Obama to put a gloss on Japan’s refusal to open its markets and to put a gloss on how great TPP is,” said Kevin Kearns, president of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which opposes the TPP deal.

Kearns’ group launched inside-the-Beltway ads this week calling Japan a currency manipulator. “The real purpose of the ad is to prevent Obama and Abe from just putting out their propaganda sheets,” Kearns said.

On the other side, the Daschle firm’s registration for Japan, filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, said that the embassy of Japan had not yet signed a formal contract and did not disclose any fee arrangement. But Tom Daschle himself is registered to lobby for the government.

“The Daschle Group’s activities may include communications on behalf of the Embassy of Japan with officials in U.S. executive branch departments and agencies, with members and staff of the U.S. Congress, and with other individuals and organizations involved in governmental or public policy matters,” the FARA filing said.

The Financial Details

Akin Gump, which disclosed collecting nearly $400,000 in fees from Japan during a six-month period ending Dec. 31, reported meetings with influential congressional aides in the trade policy debate including Geoffrey Antell, trade counsel on the Ways and Means Committee, and Everett Eissenstat, chief trade counsel to Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.

The DCI Group AZ also filed to work on behalf of Akin Gump for the Japanese embassy to “help to educate the public by providing information on the benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership” and disclosed a monthly retainer of $30,000, according to a March FARA filing.

Hogan Lovells, reported more than $216,000 in fees recently from Japan, and disclosed a broad range of activities including “proposed congressional measures, treaties and other international agreements, and actions by the U.S. Congress, Executive Branch, U.S. Government agencies and certain state and local governments.” The work covered six months ending Feb. 28.

Japan also farmed out work to the marketing and communications shop Mita Group, which disclosed conversations about the TPP deal with Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Tom Price, R-Ga. Mita Group reported collecting $50,000 in fees for six month’s of work.

C. Landon Parvin, a GOP speechwriter for presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, disclosed $70,000 in fees for “writing remarks and speeches” in a January FARA filing.

The Podesta Group’s most recent semi-annual FARA report said the firm “counseled” Japan on U.S. policy for a fee of $75,000.

The T. Dean Reed Company, a lobbying and messaging firm, reported $188,000 for half a year’s work “supporting U.S.-Japan relations through Embassy activities advice and consultation, public relations services including digital and social media communications assistance media monitoring,” according to a FARA document.

Tim Hecht, a lobbyist with Hecht Spencer & Associates, reported a meeting in December with Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on behalf of Japan. The firm’s filing disclosed $90,000 in fees from Japan.