A Look Inside the Dictators' Lobby

To investigate high-powered lobbying firms' advocacy for "corrupt, dictatorial foreign regimes," Harper's Washington editor Ken Silverstein posed as "Kenneth Case" of "The Maldon Group," a fictitious London-based firm which he said had "a financial stake in improving the public image" of Turkmenistan. An excerpt of Silverstein's article on Harper's website describes his meeting with Cassidy & Associates. Cassidy lobbyists said their work for Equatorial Guinea was "a very similar sort of representation to what you're talking about" for Turkmenistan, and boasted of getting President Teodoro Obiang off Parade Magazine's "worst dictator" list. They also trumpeted the firm's "strong personal relationships" with policymakers. According to the Wall Street Journal, both Cassidy and APCO Associates suggested "an aggressive campaign against 'biased' news stories, organizing conferences at which sympathetic views could be aired, finding ways to get members of Congress to take paid trips to Turkmenistan and emphasizing how much the U.S. would benefit if Turkmenistan further opened its economy to outside investment." APCO further "recommended holding forums for journalists, academics and politicians, hosted by a third party, where a Turkmen politician could give a speech."


...Sacha Baron Cohen should be doing instead of wasting his talent on stuff like Borat. No field was ever riper for the harvest than this. This is where the real laughs are.

From O'Dwyer's PR Daily:

APCO Worldwide's B.J. Cooper rips Harper's Ken Silverstein for July piece that duped the D.C. PA shop about bid to rep repressive Turkmenistan. Trashes the article as the "most unethical reportorial project that he has ever seen." Silverstein, who admits "trickery," says he acted in "public interest." Tells O'Dwyer's he selected APCO as target because of the firm's "unsavory past."

...of a book I read years ago -- a confession -- by a former phony medium. The best chapter title was, "Who Grabbed My Ectoplasm?"

Laurence Socci
Government Consulting, Lobbying and Advocacy
www.theclagroup.com (703) 780-1846

It's interesting that Silverstein seems to think that media should decide who lobbying firms should or should not represent. Next thing you know, he'll be telling law firms that they shouldn't represent child abusers.

This is a deeply and multiply dishonest argument. For starters, Silverstein never claimed that "media should decide who lobbying firms should or should not represent." For the media to "decide" something like that, there would need to be some sort of decision-making body (like a jury or regularory agency) comprised of media representatives with the power to enforce their decisions. No one has ever proposed creation of such a thing, so Socci is making is a totally bogus, dishonest, straw man argument. However, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does guarantee that the media have the right to report on the activities of lobbyists, and that's all Silverstein has done.

Socci's comparison of lobbyists who represent dictators with law firms who represent child abusers is also deeply dishonest. Under U.S. law, it's true that accused criminals are entitled to legal representation, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. This means that even an accused child molester or someone like Timothy McVeigh gets an attorney appointed to represent them. I would therefore never consider a court-appointed attorney simply for representing a client who happens to be guilty of some awful crime. That's supposed to happen to ensure fair trials.

With lobbyists, things are completely different. There is no law or principle that says, "if you cannot afford a lobbyist, one will be appointed for you." Lobbyists don't represent dictators who torture and kill because of some legal or ethical obligation to fairness. They do so simply for the money, and it's therefore entirely appropriate to criticize them for their actions.