How Qatar is funding a high-profile lobbyist to influence US Senate elections

Sen. Bob Menendez (D, N.J.) looks on during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 23, 2018. (Reuters)

Qatar is funding a high-profile lobbyist to influence the upcoming US Senate elections in November, according to US media reports this week.

Michael Soliman is the New Jersey Democrat's Bob Menendez campaign chairman, and since 2015, Soliman has also lobbied the senator and other members of Congress on behalf of the government of Qatar, arranging meetings for the country's ambassador to the U.S. and raising issues important to Qatar's relationship with Washington, according to the US government watchdog Campaign Legal Center.

Should Menendez defeat Republican Bob Hugin in November and Democrats take control of the Senate, the senator would be poised to chair the Foreign Relations Committee — it said.

Menendez is seeking a third six-year term after overcoming federal corruption allegations last year, and
his campaign has paid Soliman's consulting firm $105,000 since 2015, according to the Inquirer.

Qatar, spent $24 million on lawyers and lobbyists in the U.S. last year.

While it is legal for Soliman to hold the campaign and lobbying roles simultaneously, but some ethics experts say the arrangement poses conflicts of interest and many questions.

"There is a blurring of lines between responsibility to the candidate and responsibility to their client," said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog in Washington. "Very little of that is a responsibility to the public."

Steve Sandberg, a spokesperson for the Menendez campaign, admitted that Menendez met Qatari dignitaries, according to the report.

Ethics experts said that Soliman’s campaign and lobbying roles could fan fears of Qatar influence.

Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, was quoted by Philly as confirming that it is unusual for a top campaign adviser to be registered as a representative of a foreign principal.

Menendez has survived a high-profile corruption trial last year when a judge acquitted him of some of the charges, and the Justice Department dropped its case.

The Senate Ethics Committee has reprimanded Menendez in April, writing in a letter that his conduct "risked undermining the public's confidence in the Senate."

Menendez has maintained he did nothing wrong in accepting gifts and advocating for the interests of a Florida doctor, saying he acted out of friendship, according to many US media outlets.

The Philly said that since 2015, Soliman has arranged meetings with members of Congress and various Qatari officials, including the ambassador to Washington, foreign affairs minister, and attorney general, according to records filed with the Justice Department by Mercury Public Affairs, the international consulting and lobbying firm where Soliman is a partner.

The Qatari Embassy in Washington first signed a contract with Mercury in 2015 for a rate of $155,000 a month, according to the site.

Since then, the parties have renewed the contract for at least $100,000 a month, records show, it added.
More than a half-dozen lobbyists at Mercury have worked for Qatar, which has a lot at stake.

Also records show Soliman has discussed legislation with Menendez's chief of staff and asked Foreign Relations Committee staff about such issues as Menendez's view on Syria policy and authorization for use of military force.

According to a July disclosure, his most recent contact with Menendez's staff came in May, when Soliman worked to arrange a meeting between the senator and the Qatari ambassador, the site added.

Also, Soliman's colleague at Mercury Mark Braden, a GOP strategist, who managed Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker's 2012 campaign and has since lobbied him, as the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, on behalf of Qatar.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:53 - GMT 06:53
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