Saudi Lobbying Armada Grows Even Larger; Governors Targeted

Texas Capitol Building
Texas Capitol

With governors as new political targets, Saudi Arabia has again expanded its already formidable array of lobbying firms. Following a September surge that brought the tally to 10, an October expansion now brings the total to 14.

The influence spending spree has spanned nearly a year and has coincided with three major developments:

  • Saudi Arabia’s war and blockade on Yemen, which has taken a terrible humanitarian toll.
  • A campaign that prompted the July release of 28 pages detailing a variety of Saudi government links to the 9/11 hijackers and their associates.
  • The September passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which cleared the path for 9/11 family members and other victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia.

The repeal of JASTA is the clear objective of this latest round of lobbying investment, according to reports at al-Jazeera, The Hill and Washington Post.

The measure passed both houses of Congress by unanimous voice votes; President Obama vetoed it and then endured the first override of his tenure. The fight is far from over; Saudi Arabia is now waging a fierce, multi-pronged attack on the measure with an eye on reversing it during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress.

Coming Soon: Governors Against JASTA

A document filed with the Foreign Agents Registration Unit (FARA) indicates one of the lobbying firms, Flywheel Government Solutions, will, for an initial fee of $25,000:

  • “Conduct outreach to Governors and Lieutenant Governors from across the United States, educating them on the impacts and potential risks/threats that JASTA poses on their states’ business and economic interests, members of the military and national security”
  • “Engage and align selected Governors and Lieutenant Governors to take grasstops action, such as writing letters to their respective state’s congressional delegation, to appeal to Congress to repeal JASTA.”
  • “Attempt to enlist Governors and Lieutenant Governors to write opinion pieces in newspapers or other publications or to make public statements opposing Congress’ passage of JASTA.”
Flywheel's David Beightol
Flywheel Co-Founder David Beightol

What the Saudi lobbying effort boasts in budget, it lacks in facts. For example, though JASTA only enables lawsuits against foreign governments, and merely modifies an existing allowance for suits against terror sponsors, the kingdom and its many domestic sympathizers routinely claim that it is an unprecedented departure from the principle of sovereign immunity and will somehow expose individual U.S. military service members to litigation in foreign courts.

As Flywheel gets to work in immersing state executives in the kingdom’s false arguments and urging them to publicly oppose JASTA, other voices have already started a stream of misleading opinion pieces and editorials. Two representative samples:

  • Former CIA agent Chet Nagle: “JASTA abrogates the principle of sovereign immunity….JASTA means that American diplomats and soldiers will be sued in Iraq and other foreign courts, crippling our ability to…defend our national security.”
  • Defense Intelligence Agency veteran Paul Crespo: “JASTA would gut the 500-year-old principle of sovereign immunity across the board…without sovereign immunity, countries…could prosecute our soldiers.”

Once the election is over, expect the anti-JASTA drumbeat to grow ever louder; it will be up to the same coalition that made JASTA the law to now guard it against Saudi counterattack—and in so doing, preserve for 9/11 victims the chance to present their case in court.

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