Saudi Arabia spent millions trying to keep 9/11 families and survivors from presenting evidence against the kingdom
By Brian P. McGlinchey
Last October, the Saudi government partnered with Qorvis MSLGROUP to launch a massive, nationwide lobbying effort aimed at undermining a new law that cleared the way for 9/11 families and survivors to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged support of al Qaeda and its hijackers.
Now, a disclosure filing with the Department of Justice gives an indication of the high cost of the effort, and helps shine a light on Americans all across the country hired to execute the kingdom’s campaign to keep evidence of its links to 9/11 out of court.
Campaign Marked by Deceptive Premise, Misconduct
The principal weapon in the Saudi attack on the measure was a false argument—specifically, the claim that, if other countries adopted their own versions of JASTA, U.S. military service members and veterans of every war would face trials in foreign courts.
JASTA, however, doesn’t authorize suits against individuals—only governments. “JASTA poses no risk of exposing U.S. service members to lawsuits in foreign courts,” said William S. Dodge, former counselor on international law at the State Department, in a February interview with 28Pages.org.
In addition to its deceptive premise, the Saudi-Qorvis campaign has been characterized by rampant violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)—most notoriously, providing veterans with paid travel to Washington to lobby against JASTA without informing them that Saudi Arabia was organizing the effort. The misconduct prompted a 9/11 families and victims group to lodge a lengthy and detailed complaint with the Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, despite the extraordinary effort of the kingdom and its American surrogates—which also included placing opinion pieces in newspapers, recruiting citizens to sign on to letters to Congress, contacting state and federal legislators and soliciting influential community leaders to call for changes to JASTA—the law remains intact.
This report shows just some of those who helped the Saudi effort to thwart the 9/11 families’ and victims’ civil suit. It’s organized by Qorvis disbursements ranked by size—from the biggest seven-digit heavyweight to the former Maryland GOP communications director who earned just $150.
- In the main headings, most names link to firms’ websites. Names of individual agents link to their FARA registration forms.
- This article only focuses on the lobbying effort run by Qorvis; the Saudis also employ many other firms.
- This is not a comprehensive list of everyone involved in the Qorvis campaign. only those we could link to specific Qorvis payouts. For others, see this story.
- Send corrections or additional information to email@example.com.
- If you’re a journalist and would like help with your reporting, click here.
$7,117,145: Community Strategies, Inc
Location: Washington, D.C.
In the early days of the emerging Saudi lobbying scandal, Michael Gibson’s name appeared on an email coordinating flight arrangements for one of the veterans invited to travel to Washington to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA)—without being told that Saudi Arabia was behind the effort.
Given his involvement in that low-level transaction, one may have concluded at the time that Gibson’s role in the Saudi campaign was relatively modest. The recent Qorvis disclosure filing revealed that, quite to the contrary, Gibson played a critical and commanding role.
A majority of the $7.1 million that Qorvis paid to Community Strategies was funneled out to dozens of other entities and individuals all across the country. However, Community Strategies itself received $3,123,936 for “grass roots activation and supervision.” Considering the widespread misconduct across Gibson’s sprawling operation, the suggestion that he had supervisory responsibility isn’t a flattering one.
Gibson also leads Advocacy Group Inc.
$825,990: Wisconsin Legislative Strategies
Registered Saudi Agent: Jason Johns
Location: Oregon, Wisconsin
Along with Scott Wheeler (found two entries below), Jason Johns ran the most infamous parts of the Saudi campaign against JASTA: programs by which groups of veterans were flown to Washington to lobby against the bill, without being told the initiative was organized and funded by Saudi Arabia.
Veterans recruited by Johns and his associates were housed at the Trump International DC, where they enjoyed free meals and open bars. (Wheeler’s operation was separate and used different hotels.)
At the time of his work for Saudi Arabia, Johns was National Senior Vice Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH). According to MOPH emails shared with 28Pages.org, Johns has since been suspended from the organization for one year for a cause unrelated to his anti-JASTA activities.
When originally registering as a Saudi agent, Johns declared he would be paid $100,000. Much of the $825,990 paid to his firm may have covered travel expenses for the veterans he brought to Washington.
$569,090: Hard Count, Inc
Registered Saudi Agent: William D. “Billy” Horton
Location: Austin, Texas
Hard Count specializes in both grassroots and “grasstops” advocacy, the latter term referring to efforts that focus on opinion leaders and people with connections to elected officials.
$375,991: Capitol Media Group
Registered Saudi Agent: Scott Wheeler
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Though Wheeler’s operation was distinct from that of Jason Johns, above, it was very similar in that it entailed flying groups of veterans to Washington to lobby for changes to JASTA.
Wheeler’s registration as a Saudi agent came months after it was required under law, but just two days after 9/11 families and victims filed their DOJ complaint alleging broad misconduct, including the failure of many participants to register.
Wheeler’s registration indicated he reported directly to Saudi Arabia, and specifically to then-Saudi ambassador Prince Abdullah bin Faisal. However, Brad Owens, a veteran who recruited others on Wheeler’s behalf, says Wheeler claimed that—contrary to his attorney’s sworn declarations on Capitol Media Group’s registration—there were multiple intermediaries between him and the Saudis. Further, Owens said Wheeler asserted that he himself wasn’t initially informed of Saudi Arabia’s role.
Given Wheeler was paid by Qorvis, it may well be true that Wheeler didn’t report directly to the kingdom. If so, that would seem to indicate that his attorney—James Kevin Wholey, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole—mishandled Wheeler’s tardy DOJ filing, registering Capitol Media Group as a primary registrant when he should have instead filed using a “short form” indicating Wheeler was working under Qorvis.
In another apparent lapse, Elliott Schwartz of QE Intelligence is said to have performed substantial duties in Wheeler’s lobbying operation, yet his name does not appear in a search of FARA registrants.
Given the conflicting accounts, many questions remain about Wheeler; chief among them: Who recruited him, what exactly did they tell him about who was behind the operation, and when did he learn about Saudi Arabia’s role? Wheeler has refused 28Pages.org’s interview requests, and has emailed participating veterans, attempting to discredit the reporting here and to discourage them from talking as well.
$277,500: Vectre Corporation
Location: Richmond, Virginia
This firm boasts several veterans of state government. For example, its president, H. Benson Dendy III, held the posts of secretary of the commonwealth and special assistant to the governor, while Philip Abraham was a special assistant and senior assistant for policy for two governors.
$237,400: Dixon & Company
Registered Saudi Agent: Jeffrey Dixon
Dixon is the son of the late U.S. senator Alan J. Dixon, a Democrat who represented Illinois for two terms. In addition to having served as a press secretary for Illinois House speaker Michael Madigan, Jeffrey Dixon has worked on a variety of political campaigns, including Rod Blagojevich for governor, Paul Simon for U.S. Senate, and Michael Dukakis for president.
$162,640: Integrated Legislative Solutions
Working under the supervision of Terry Snyder, Shelbi Lewark helped recruit veterans to travel to Washington to lobby against JASTA. Several of them have told 28Pages.org that she failed to disclose Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the initiative.
To accomplish her assignment, Lewark sought the assistance of a local veteran, who in turn invited others to join the effort. Contrary to Lewark’s claim to 28Pages.org, the veteran says she did not inform him about Saudi Arabia’s role; nor did she advise him of the need to register with the Department of Justice as a Saudi agent.
Lewark is also a past vice-chair of the Denver GOP. Integrated Legislative Solutions appears to have no website and Terry Snyder has a very low internet profile.
$131,600: Miller Strategies
Registered Saudi Agent: James “Jamie” Miller
Jamie Miller is a Republican strategist who worked on Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign. He is also the director of business competitiveness initiatives for the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County.
$128,750: Novus Public Affairs
Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Novus president Paul Young was an advisor to two presidential campaigns: Lindsey Graham’s in 2016 and Rick Perry’s in 2012. He’s also a principal at another firm that supported Saudi Arabia’s anti-JASTA effort: Hynes Communications (see below, at $56,000).
Brennan Ward has worked in a variety of roles supporting Republican electoral efforts in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
$106,925: Connolly Kuhl Group
Registered Saudi Agent: Patrick Connolly
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota
Before launching Connolly Kuhl, Patrick Connolly supported Norm Coleman’s 2002 Senate campaign, and then became a Coleman staffer. Coleman has himself served as a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, while simultaneously chairing one of the nation’s largest GOP PACs. Earlier, as a senator, he signed a letter condemning the kingdom for fostering extremism.
$101,500: Schmett & Associates
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Kim Schmett ran for U.S. Congress in 2008, but, according to the Iowa Republican, he “struggled at every facet of the campaign.” Connie Schmett is an experienced Republican activist who, among other things, organized an Iowa caucus in 2016 that drew roughly 1,000 attendees and appearances by four presidential candidates.
UPDATE: See our exposé in which an Air Force veteran accuses Connie Schmett of tricking him into lobbying for the Saudi cause.
$86,400: Kyle Moyer & Company
Registered Saudi Agent: Cylee L. Gutting
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
Firm president Kyle Moyer, who does not appear to have registered as a Saudi agent, managed a GOP campaign for the Arizona legislature.
Cylee Gutting recently left the firm to work for Greater Phoenix Leadership.
$76,800: 29:11 Strategies
Registered Saudi Agent: John “Wes” Farno
Location: Minster, Ohio
Wes Farno is chairman of the Auglaize County Republican Party, and previously worked for Advocacy Group, Inc (see the first entry above.)
Based in a small, rural village in western Ohio, his firm claims to have “values forged in the heartland,” bemoans that “our world is full of misguided truths,” declares that it uses “faith-based principles” in providing its services, and avows to “hold honesty and integrity above all else.”
Those advertised principles are starkly at odds with Farno’s participation in a lobbying effort built on a dishonest premise, marked by rampant misconduct and ultimately aimed at shielding a dictatorial Wahhabist monarchy from 9/11 families seeking justice for mass murder.
$76,500: LS2 Group
Location: Des Moine, Iowa
Daniel Lederman is chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party and a former South Dakota state senator. Charles Larson, Jr. is a former ambassador to Latvia in the George W. Bush administration, former state senator and representative. Army Reserve veteran. His father was director of law enforcement for Saudi Arabia’s “highway patrol project.” Campbell helped coordinate whistleblowing veteran Tim Cord’s lobbying trip.
$63,809: The Resources Group
Registered Saudi Agent: David Miner
Location: Cary, North Carolina
Miner is a former, six-term Republican representative in the North Carolina legislature, serving a district that includes Raleigh. Considered a moderate, he launched The Resources Group after being trounced in a 2004 primary challenge. Miner was a fundraiser for George W. Bush and Bob Dole.
$56,000: Hynes Communications
Registered Saudi Agent: Paul Young
Location: Concord, New Hampshire
According to its website, this firm focuses on digital media and online communications strategy. Founder Patrick Hynes, who appears not to have registered as a Saudi agent, is a current advisor to the New Hampshire GOP, advised the presidential campaigns of Jeb Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
He also ran a website that heavily promoted the Swiftboat Veterans campaign against presidential candidate John Kerry, wrote a column for The American Spectator, and authored a book: In Defense of the Religious Right. (Given his hand in fighting JASTA for Saudi Arabia, the world eagerly awaits his sequel: In Defense of Salafism.)
This is one of two firms in the Saudi-Qorvis universe that Paul Young works for; see Novus Public Affairs at $128,750 above.
$54,550: Peritus Public Relations
Registered Saudi Agents: Kevin E. Borland, Tim Mulloy, Sarah Durand
Location: Birmingham, Alabama and Louisville, Kentucky
Durand was directly involved in recruiting veterans to travel to Washington to oppose JASTA. A veteran that Durand contacted told Daily Caller that Durand and others “literally never told me anything about what the trip was for. It kind of ticked me off. I was asking very specific questions. I asked who was paying for it and they wouldn’t tell me.”
Durand was communications director for Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and chief of staff for Kentucky first lady Glenna Bevin. Earlier, she was president of the Louisville Tea Party.
Mulloy and Borland recently launched MulloyBorland, LLC in Louisville, with Durand on the staff as well.
28Pages.org was unable to locate an initial FARA registration for Mulloy or Durand. However, both their names appear in a list of terminated Saudi-Qorvis registrations.
$52,350: Paul Stanley
Location: Savannah, Tennessee
Stanley is a former Tennessee state senator whose political career ended in a 2009 scandal. An evangelical Christian who ran on promoting family values, the then-47-year old Stanley had an affair with a 22-year old state capitol intern. He then became the victim of an attempted extortion and resigned from office.
Reflecting on the experience in a 2011 interview, Stanley said, “What I was doing was not so much hypocritical as it was sinful. I mean it was wrong…we’re all tempted in some area of our life. We just have to figure out how to deal with that.”
Stanley wrote a 2014 column exhorting his fellow Christians to support military action in Iraq in the name of countering terrorism. Now we find he took $52,350 from Saudi Arabia in exchange for aiding its desperate attempt to curtail scrutiny of its export of extremism and its links to the 9/11 attacks.
Unfortunately for society, it seems Stanley’s knack for jarring hypocrisy is fully intact; his ability to resist temptation, still impaired.
$51,500: Ballard Everett & Associates
Registered Saudi Agent: J. Ballard Everett
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Everett has been involved in Republican politics for more than 40 years, according to his firm’s website (which appears to have been hijacked by someone offering the sale of cheap online prescription drugs). He also helped lead a conservative drive against the death penalty.
$48,650: Dauntless Communications
Location: Roseville, California
Daily Caller reported that Eisenhammer’s firm set up a booth at a Reno gun show in January that was used to recruit veterans and others to oppose JASTA, to include asking about their willingness to travel to Washington. There’s no indication that those who were pitched at the gun show were notified that the table was sponsored by Saudi Arabia.
$40,050: Public Policy Solutions
Registered Saudi Agent: Cory Black
Location: Templeton, California
While the individuals selected for the Saudi-Qorvis campaign against JASTA skew overwhelmingly to the Republican side, Black worked on every Democratic campaign for the White House between 1992 and 2008.
$32,550: Steven Cohen
Location: Wheeling, West Virginia
Cohen is a former energy industry lobbyist and was executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
$31,750: Bickford Pacific Group
Registered Saudi Agent: Frank Bickford
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Bickford is a prominent Alaska lobbyist who managed John Lindauer’s 1998 GOP campaign for the governor’s office. (Subsequently charged with perjury and violation of campaign laws, Lindauer entered a no contest plea and was spared prison time.)
$29,200: Jackson-West Consulting
Registered Saudi Agent: Christopher West
Location: Alexandria, Virginia.
Christopher West worked on the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign in Florida, in the offices of Virginia senator George Allen and of the Virginia attorney general. His partner, Charlie Jackson, started in media, including a position with The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Location: Washington, DC
According to forms filed with Flywheel’s FARA registration, the firm was engaged to “conduct outreach to governors and lieutenant governors…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.” Among its goals: to persuade governors to contact federal legislators, write opinion pieces and make public statements opposing JASTA.
$24,950: Eaton River Strategies
Registered Saudi Agent: Kathie Summers Grice
Location: Manchester, Maine
Summers Grice was a George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. Department of Labor and registered as a Saudi lobbyist last Oct. 9.
On Oct. 28, she tweeted: “I will never support a company or nation that oppresses human rights.” Weeks later, her firm received $24,950 for services rendered to the kingdom infamous for jailing dissidents, flogging journalists, oppressing religious minorities and mistreating women.
$24,900: Duane Morris Government Strategies
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Per the firm’s website, Duane Morris “provides expertise in a variety of government affairs, public policy and grassroots lobbying initiatives, from monitoring, drafting, amending, passing and stopping legislation to public relations and crisis management to coalition building.”
$23,300: Organized Karma
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
In March, 28Pages.org was first to report that Bilbray-Axelrod signed on to represent Saudi Arabia just 25 days before being elected to the Nevada state assembly. Follow-on coverage by the Las-Vegas Review-Journal led a fellow legislator to consider filing a formal ethics complaint, inspired an op-ed calling for her resignation and ultimately prompted Bilbray-Axelrod to resign from Organized Karma.
Ronni Council recruited former Clark County commissioner Dario Herrera to help fight JASTA. However, according to Herrera, she never disclosed that Saudi Arabia was behind the effort. “I wouldn’t have touched it with a 10-foot pole if I’d known about the Saudis,” Herrera told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
$17,150: Sherpa Public Affairs
Registered Saudi Agent: Gibson McKay
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
McKay previously worked as an aide to Senator John McCain and held a Republican national convention role in McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.
$16,800: Lynne Schlosser
Location: St. Louis
Schlosser has an exceedingly low internet profile. According to her LinkedIn page, she previously worked in government relations for the American Cancer Society.
$15,750: Hubbell Communications
Location: Portland, Oregon
Edmonds has previously worked on the campaigns of U.S. senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and New Jersey governor John Corzine, and was named Best Campaign Manager by Oregon House Democrats. Lussier was a field director for the Trump campaign.
$15,600: Capitol Strategies
Registered Saudi Agent: David H. Carroll, Jr, Rory Murray
Location: Annapolis, Maryland
Carroll is a founder of the firm.
Earlier in his career, he was director of the Democratic Business Council, a fundraising program that targeted corporations.
$13,700: Creative Communications
Registered Saudi Agent: Randal L. Hayden
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Randy Hayden is on the board of directors of Louisiana Clean Fuels and also does communications work for the Louisiana Propane Gas Association. Earlier, he won AP and UPI awards for broadcast journalism.
$12,700: Cammarano Layton Bombardieri
Registered Saudi Agent: Jon R. Bombardieri
Location: Trenton, New Jersey
Bombardieri was executive director of the New Jersey General Assembly, and policy advisor to the New Jersey General Assembly Majority Office.
$11,000: Felkel Group
Registered Saudi Agent: D. Hollis Felkel II
Location: South Carolina
Active in the Republican Party, Hollis “Chip” Felkel previously worked on the 2000 and 2004 Bush-Cheney campaigns and the 1988 Bush-Quayle campaign.
$10,800: Advocacy Solutions LLC
Registered Saudi Agent: Francis X. McMahon, Christopher Hunter
Location: Providence, Rhode Island
McMahon was Rhode Island governor Bruce Sundlun’s special counsel and deputy chief of staff.
$7,900: Kristen Sheehan Consulting
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Together, Kukowski and Sheehan own KK & Co, which they cheerfully describe as a “100 percent woman-owned” public relations, communications and fundraising firm.
Kukowski served as national press secretary for the Republican Party for five years under chairman Reince Priebus. She was also communications director for Scott Walker’s 2016 presidential campaign, John McCain’s 2008 White House bid, and led communications for the 2016 national GOP convention.
Sheehan was political director for senator Norm Coleman’s 2008 campaign, which he lost to challenger Al Franken by 312 votes. Coleman went on to become a Saudi lobbyist as well.
$6,450: Wellington Strategies
Registered Saudi Agent: Joseph Kuklis
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Kuklis was deputy state director for Senator Rick Santorum. In 2012, he merged a former venture, GSP Consulting, with Duane Morris Government Strategies (see $24,900 above).
Kuklis wrote a book about his lobbying experience called The Robin Hood of D.C. For his sequel, he may struggle to find a flattering literary metaphor for someone who takes money from rich Saudis royals in exchange for protecting them from 9/11 widows.
$6,350: Resch Strategies
Registered Saudi Agent: Matthew Resch
Location: Lansing, Michigan
Resch earlier worked in communications for the Michigan governor’s office and state legislature.
$6,350: Strategic Advocacy LLC
Registered Saudi Agent: Roy Lenardson
Location: Portland, Maine and Ave Maria, Florida
Lenardson was chief of staff in the Maine senater, managed a gubernatorial campaign and worked at the Maine Heritage Policy Center. In 2014, he managed a controversial polling effort about Medicaid expansion in Maine. Critics called it a “push poll,” in which calls were meant to create and change opinions rather than collect them.
$3,750: KOFA Public Affairs
Registered Saudi Agent: Richard Abbruzzese
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Abbruzzese was director of public affairs for Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, and also served as his deputy campaign manager.
$150: Yocheved “Chevy” Weiss
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
There’s a rule in risk management: Don’t risk a lot for a little. Earning a grand total of $150 for her service to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Weiss seems to have profoundly violated that principle.
As 28Pages.org first reported in May, Weiss used Facebook to solicit others to join the anti-JASTA effort, but failed to include a disclosure of her Saudi sponsorship, which appears to be a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Willful violations are subject to prison terms up of to five years and fines of up to $10,000.
According to her LinkedIn page, Weiss was communications director for the Maryland Republican Party.
If you have first-hand information about the Saudi-Qorvis campaign against JASTA, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.