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10.03.2010 11:12

Georgian Authorities Hires Two PR Companies to Lobby in the United States

David Mchedlidze
Media Discusions

Early this year Georgian authorities hired two PR companies to lobby in the United States. According to the documentation submitted to the US Department of Justice the fee for the service to be provided tops USD 800,000. The service to be performed by both companies includes lobbying Georgian authorities in the US Congress.

Last year the Georgian authorities similarly spent up to USD 800,000 for the same service in the States, though the amount for lobbying in Europe remains unclear.

The latest contract dating back to January 12, 2010 and having been published in February was signed by Eka Tkeshelashvili, Secretary of the National Security Council. The six-month contract of USD 300,000 was concluded with the Washington-based lobbying and public affairs firm Podesta Group.

In line with the contract the lobbying firm shall lobby Georgian authorities in the US Congress and executive authorities as well as provide media-related services.

According to the documentation submitted to the US Department of Justice Podesta Group shall organize the meetings of the representatives of Georgian authorities with the members of the US Congress and the executive authorities.

The Podesta Group was founded in 1988 by brothers John Podesta and Tony Podesta. The latter is considered as the one of the most influential lobbyists and his brother John David Podesta, currently President of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C was co-chairman of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.

On January 12, 2010 the Georgian authorities hired another PR company such as Gephardt Group Government Affairs whose annual service costs approximately USD 0,5 mil.

A one-year agreement published late in January was concluded by the Georgian authorities with a former Democrat Congressman Richard Gephardt. The contract similar to the previous is aimed at lobbying the Georgian authorities in Washington.

In line with the documentation signed by Eka Tkeshelashvili from the Georgian side and submitted to the US Department of Justice by the company the contract price amounts to USD 436, 800.

The company undertakes to provide the Georgian authorities a lobbying service in the US Congress and the executive authorities.

Last year too the agreements of the kind were reached by the Georgian authorities with Washington-based lobbying firms through the contracts of USD 770,000. According to the US Congress edition The Hill hiring PR consulting and lobbying firms in Washington between the Democrats and Republicans was to be conducive to strengthening support to Georgia.

The Hill, essentially covering US Congress-related topics, reported that in March 2009 the Georgian government concluded a six-month contract of USD 300,000 with the lobbying firm such as Public Strategies. A number of influential figures from the Democratic Party worked for the firm. The staff included Jeff Eller, former White House Director of Media Affairs in the Clinton Administration and Robert Ludke, a former tax and budget policy analyst for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

In addition in 2009 Georgia hired, for a11-month term, two consultants such as Daniel Kunin, President Saakashvili's advisor throughout years and Gregory Maniatis.  The contract price amounted to approximately USD 470,000 and the fee shall be split between the consultants.

"In line with the contract we shall give the Georgian authorities advice related to international relations, in particular strategy and communications in regard to the United States," said Maniatis in his E-mail to the newspaper.

Aforementioned new consultative contracts have been added to the existing lobbying firm such as Glover Park Group hired by the Georgian authorities in August 2008.

In its documentation 2008 submitted to the US Department of Justice Glover Park Group indicated that for the service rendered to the Georgian authorities the firm was paid USD 320,000.

According to the same papers following the hire Glover Park Group made over 50 connections with the offices of congressmen and senators in order to organize meetings with the Georgian high officials or discuss trade relations issues.

The firm, in regard to Georgia, had contacts with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's assistants as well as with Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate. Another goal of the Glover Park Group was to secure President Saakashvili's appearance on media.

In addition to the aforementioned firms Orion Strategies also worked on Georgia. According to the data by the US Department of Justice in 2008 the firm received USD 150,000 from the Georgian authorities.

According to the August 2008 reports by the Washington Post since 2004 the Orion Strategies received from Georgia USD 800,000 in total. But in 2009 Georgia refused to prolong the contract with the firm. It is noteworthy that the Orion Strategies was founded by Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In addition to the United States Georgia had hired PR consulting firm in Europe too, such as the Brussels-based Aspect Consulting. The statements were made by the company representatives though the fee for the service remains undisclosed.

It is also noteworthy that President Saakashvili flatly denied spending millions on American lobbyists. In September 2008 Saakashvili didn't confirm the information on his administration's lobbying relations with Randy Scheunemann.

He was posed the question in the course of the BBC flagship BBC television programme HARDtalk when President Saakashvili was talking about tremendous support Georgia enjoys in the United States.

"We receive huge support from the US Administration," he said and added that the support is being offered not by President Bush and his administration only but by both presidential candidates.

Saying that the programme presenter Stephan Sackur interrupted President Saakashvili with a question: "Nobody would deny it for a second that you have fantastic PR in Washington and many supporters, some say that partly because you spend millions of dollars on lobbying and PR in Washington not least with Mr. McCain's chief foreign policy advisor [Randy Scheunemann], he has received lot of money in his strategy organization [Orion Strategies] from your government; so you do have PR friends, but when it comes to practicalities what have the Americans have actually done for you to stop the Russians doing what they want on your territory?"

"You've just sounded like Mr. Putin right now," Saakashvili responded with a smile on his face. "What millions of dollars? What lobbyist?... We do not have millions to spend on anything especially on lobbying."

According to the August 31, 2008 report by The Washington Post since 2004 Orion Strategies received USD 800,000 from the Georgian authorities.

It is also noteworthy that last year Gela Bezhuashvli, Chairman of the Department of Intelligence said counterargumenting that Russia actively applied international lobbying teams, PR companies and foreign media to discredit Georgia and disseminate disinformation. According to him in 2008 Russia spent over USD 20 million on Georgia.

In addition he named the companies who, according to him, since 2006 had been receiving orders from the Kremlin, directly or through Gazprom, on discrediting Georgia. The companies named by him include Ketchum Ltd; Gavin Andreson; GPlus; Alston&Bird, LLP.

How much does the government spent annually on lobbying in the West - it's unveiled. According to the Ministry of Finance they are not aware of the government's expenditure of a kind either in Europe or the United States.

According to Mikheil Saakashvili's spokeswoman Manana Manjgaladze the issue is out of her competence. Nikoloz Mchedlishvili, the Head of the Prime Minister's Press Office is also unaware of these sums and cannot confirm whether the amount has been apportioned from the Government reserve fund. And the government's official website tells nothing about the expenditures in the reserve fund.

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