Azerbaijani Lobbying Throughout the Years
In a period between 2005 and 2018 the ruling regime spent more than $20 million on lobbying to cover up war
During the current war on Artsakh, Azerbaijan has heightened its press exposure, getting deals with top lobbying law firms such as Stellar Jay Communications, DLA Piper, BGR, and the Livingston Group, Podesta Group, and Ballard Partners. Azerbaijan has extensive lobbying efforts: they have arranged for meetings with members of Congress, universities, and published pieces from the New York Times, Washington Post, National Review, and The Hill. In 2018, Azerbaijan reportedly spent more than $27 million on lobbying efforts.
Azerbaijan's lobbying deals in the United States
Azerbaijan’s common lobbying statements include: Armenia’s alleged “illegal role” and “provocative actions” in the conflict, how “Armenia’s leaders have been actively undermining the ongoing peace process”, and how Armenians allegedly kill people, specifically “Azerbaijani citizens” and “children”. The Azerbiajani lobbyists give out information to Congress, including how Armenia has been “involved with Middle-Eastern terrorism”, how Turkey has no involvement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, and that “Azerbaijan has been consistent in urging substantive and result-oriented negotiations in order to achieve a breakthrough in the conflict”. As evidenced above, they incorporate hardly noticeable and sophisticated schemes to get their lobbying agenda done. The purpose of this blog post is an in-depth analysis on Azerbaijan’s U.S. lobbying efforts, including the specific firms and individuals they have partnerships with, Azerbaijan’s rhetoric in mass-media, and their ties with the U.S. government.
As mentioned, Azerbaijan has several contracts worth millions, primarily orchestrated by Azerbaijani groups and individuals. First person that is involved with lobbying is Anar Mammadov, an Azerbaijani tycoon that actually used Donald Trump’s name to build the Baku Trump Hotel. Mammadov founded the Azerbaijan America Alliance organization, which focuses on lobbying pursuits. For example, 11 million was spent by the organization on lobbying through the Fabiani & Company firm and 2 million was spent on lobbying through the Carpino & Associates firm. However, the fate of this organization became dim in 2016 after they did not pay the Republican Congressman Dan Burton for a whole year, which caused Burton to resign as a chair of the Azerbaijan America Alliance.
Another group is Azerbaijan’s Embassy, who spent over 2 million dollars on lobbying attempts to the Podesta Group until 2017, and 1 million to the BGR Government Affairs LLC firm on lobbying. Renaissance Association S.A. is a group based in Baku. According to the Azerbaijan Laundromat (money laundering operation) there is high probability that this organization is working with a organization that is pro-regime in Baku, because they both gain money from two onshore companies called Metastar Invest and Hilux Services and they are in the same building.
Azerbaijan also has connections with the firm Bob Lawrence and Associates (BL&A), who received over 5 million dollars. For example, during 2008 through 2016 the firm’s president was invited every year to provide recommendations to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Matters regarding the budgets for foreign aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan.The firm also paid over 200,000 dollars to Solomon P. Ortiz Holding LLC, whose founder is the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus’ (CAC) co-founder, which had 63 members in 2014.
In 2013, there was a conference called “the USA-Azerbaijan: Vision for the Future” in Baku, in which 10 members of congress (mostly CAC members) and 32 members of staff attended. An Azerbaijani oil company (SOCAR) paid for all the conference expenses, including $2.5–10 thousand dollars worth of gifts for the attendees. According to a report by the Committee on Ethics of the House of Representatives of the USA, House members had meetings with SOCAR, Azeri government officials, and the US ambassador to Azerbaijan.
The lobbyist John McGregor also had an association with the development of the CAC, in which he got paid over $100,000 from the Renaissance group from 2009 to 2012. Also, from 2012 to 2016, his lobbying firm (McGregor Group LLC) did receive over $500,000 for its lobbying attempts for Azerbaijan.
There is a lot of pro-Azerbaijani rhetoric in mass media. One of the individuals controlling the mass media is Brenda Shaffer, who is the director of the Caspian Studies Program (CSP). The program is heavily involved with the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, who funded CSP over $1 million in a grant. She was also an advisor to SOCAR, in which she didn’t let anyone know until the media got a hold of her SOCAR business card in 2014. Shaffer was an author of many pro-Azerbaijani articles in mass media, which includes the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, and Atlantic Council.
Jason Katz is another individual who appears in media and owns the Tool Shed Group firm. The General Consulate of Azerbaijan paid his firm over $200,000. He has been quoted on multiple media outlets, saying statements in favor of Azerbaijan. In The Hill he is quoted mentioning “Azerbaijan is majority-Muslim, yet staunchly secular and notably tolerant of its many ethnicities, religions, etc…The U.S. can learn much from a nation like Azerbaijan and in particular its relationship with Israel”. Namely, Katz was quoted to spread lies about Armenia, stating in The Times of Israel: “What about the Azerbaijanis who, thankfully for them, largely chart their own path, but cast their lot with the U.S. and the West only to be attacked by U.S. sponsored media and the State Department for closing radical mosques and other perceived “abuses.” While support is shown for Armenia, a radical and failed nation in its own right, but one that occupies part of Azerbaijan in a blatant violation of basic rules of international law?”
Solomon Ortiz is another lobbyist of Azerbaijan who has published in media outlets in favor of the country. In his article in The Huffington Post, he tries to whitewash the image of Azerbaijan to the US: “Our alliance with Azerbaijan will be the key to the success of the United States in the region. The Azeris have shown their friendship on the world stage. The success of this tiny but important democracy is fundamental to security problems, both in the United States and in the world’’ However this quote is false, and Azerbaijan is indeed not a democratic state: It is ranked 12 in it’s freedom out of 100, and also has denied access to foreign reporters during this war.
Azerbaijan has many relationships and links to US governmental officials (2). First, some leaders of the lobbying firms they have contracts with have ties with past U.S. presidents. Let’s begin to analyze some of these firms. Global Policy Initiatives’ president Jay K. Footlik was President Clinton’s special assistant and liaison in the American Jewish community, as well as Senator John Kerrys’ senior advisor and aide in his 2004 presidential election campaign. Podesta Group, Inc. firm’s, mentioned before in this piece, which stopped existing in 2017, president’s brother, John Podesta, served from 1998-2001 as President Clinton’s Chief of Staff and from 2014-2015 as President Obama’s counselor. Another firm, 30 Points Strategies LLC’s co-founders, Noam Neusner, served as President George Bush’s administration official and as a liaison with the US Jewish community and one of the spokespeople for Hillel International, a large Jewish campus org. In addition, he also served as a lobbyist for Congress and the American Jewish community (2010, employed by Turkey) to deny the Armenian Genocide. One of Greenberg Traurig LLP’s shareholders, Elana Broitman, served in the Clinton administration and signed a Association for Civil Society Development in Azerbaijan agreement. BGR Government Affairs LLC president, Robert (Bob) Wood, served as President George W. Bush’s chief of staff for the Department of Health and Human Services. One of Sanitas International’s co-founders, Christopher Harvin, served in the White House from 2001 to 2009 and currently serves as President Donald J. Trump’s advisor/advance lead. And lastly, Ballard Partners president, Brian Ballard, was Trump’s Florida lobbyist and continues to raise a lot of money for Trump’s reelection. He was said to have conducted one of the top fundraisers for Trump. The pattern that we see with the lobbying groups partnered with Azerbaijan is that they have connections with all of the past presidents, regardless of their party affiliation.
Lastly, there is a United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce organization, which has many members who are said to be “Honorary Council of Advisors”. Let’s analyze who these members are. James A. Baker III was White House Chief of Staff and U.S. Secretary of State under President Reagan. John H. Sununu was President George W. Bush’s White House Chief of Staff. Zbigniew Brzezinski (former member) was President Jimmy Carter’s US National Security Advisor. Brent Scowcroft served as Presidents Ford’s and George W. Bush’s United States National Security Advisor. Lastly, Henry Kissinger was US Secretary of State for both presidents Nixon and Ford.
We hope that this article was helpful for you all to realize the deep ties Azerbaijan has not only with the U.S lobbying firms, but also in media outlets and individuals who have worked with past and current presidents.
Note: Since the writing and creation of this article, several U.S. firms have cut ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey, including Mercury Public Affairs, The Livingston Group, DLA Piper, and BGR Group, which is a huge victory for Armenian-Americans.