As lobbyists on K Street scramble amid renewed federal interest in enforcing foreign lobbying disclosure laws, hundreds of miles away, an Iowa "power couple" appears to be grappling with a similar problem.
Foreign governments often hire Americans to lobby on behalf of their national interests, arranging public relations campaigns and meeting with government officials to represent their benefactors. In the interest of transparency, federal law requires any such work be disclosed with the Justice Department. In this case, Saudi Arabia hired Qorvis MSLGROUP to develop a campaign opposing the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a bill that modified the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to help victims of the 9/11 attacks sue Saudi Arabia.
The ensuing campaign was reported by 28Pages.org, which has documented how Qorvis enlisted dozens of political influencers around the country to represent Saudi Arabia's interests.
Among the campaign's players were Kim and Connie Schmett, two prominent Iowa Republicans who both currently serve in appointed positions with the state's government. In accepting her role, Connie did not list the lobbying work on relevant state financial disclosure forms. In doing so, however, Schmett actually may not have violated any rules. Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican for whom the couple reportedly hosted a recent fundraiser, has initiated a third-party review to evaluate whether that's the case, and on Tuesday asked legislators to address potential loopholes in the law.
Worse? The Qorvis campaign involved misleading veterans into participating in the lobbying efforts by offering them free trips to Washington where they met with members of Congress, all while failing to disclose Saudi Arabia's involvement. One Air Force veteran said Schmett contacted him about making a trip, attaching documents to the email that lacked indications required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act noting another country was funding the effort. After he went on the trip to Washington in January, the veteran grew suspicious and sent Schmett her FARA disclosure in a Facebook message. She responded, "... PLEASE don't share it. I'll be in BIG trouble," according to a detailed story in 28Pages.
Schmett told the Associated Press her failure to disclose the work on state forms was "an oversight on my part," maintaining, "I did what I did because I felt our veterans needed their voices needed to be heard — not to gain money, not to gain fame."
Last week, of course, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of Paul Manafort and Robert Gates included two counts of FARA violations. Lobbyist Tony Podesta and his former firm are under investigation as well. Manafort, Gates, and Podesta, among others, did not file proper FARA disclosures while working on behalf of the Ukrainian government. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn failed to file timely FARA disclosures while working on behalf of Turkey during the months he also served as national security advisor for the Trump campaign.
The Schmetts appear to have properly disclosed their work with DOJ, but the question remains as to whether the work was ethical, whether it complied with FARA laws, whether Connie deliberately concealed it, and whether the couple should be allowed to serve in the state's government.