The troubled government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is pouring millions of dollars into a new Washington lobbying campaign featuring prominent Republicans.
Among those working on the Congolese effort: former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and Adnan Jalil, who worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign helping it communicate with Congress.
Also involved is Jason Epstein, a longtime lobbyist who has represented the Turkish embassy and other foreign clients. Epstein is former director of legislative affairs at B’nai B’rith International, according to his online biography.
In an unusual arrangement, the lobbying campaign on behalf of the Congolese government is being coordinated by an Israeli security company, Mer Security and Communications, whose chief executive says it was chosen for its “personal relationship” with the country’s current leadership.
The African nation is paying Mer Security roughly $5.6 million this year in connection with the lobbying effort, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of disclosures filed with the Department of Justice. Already, the Congolese government has paid $4.5 million of that sum, a chunk of which Mer Security is using to hire Washington, D.C.-based lobbyists for the effort.
“That’s a lot of money,” said Joe Sandler, a lawyer and an expert in foreign lobbying.
Lobbying firms routinely receive seven-figure sums when advocating for foreign governments, particularly ones with bad reputations.
A prime example: South Sudan, which spent $2.1 million on K Street public relations and lobbying firms during 2014 and 2015, including the outfit led Democratic super-fundraiser Tony Podesta.
But rarely do foreign lobbying contracts command more than $5 million.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is experiencing political upheaval and civil unrest. The current leader, Joseph Kabila, has promised to hold elections before the end of the year, though opponents have questioned whether he’ll uphold the agreement.
The embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo did not respond to requests for comment from the Center for Public Integrity.
Lobbying firm Alston & Bird, which employs Dole, received $500,000 from Mer Security on April 27.
Mer Security’s filings with the Justice Department describe the money as a “payment to engage in political activities.”
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Alston & Bird is required to publicly disclose it is representing a foreign government within 10 days of agreeing to represent a foreign government.
It did not.
The firm’s letter of engagement said Dole would be lead attorney on the matter.
The $500,000 covers three months of Alston & Bird’s work.
Alston & Bird, Mer Security’s subcontractor, said its engagement terms said the firm would be offering advice on “strategic communications, policy issues and compliance with” lobbying disclosure laws.
The agreement terms “do not include or anticipate our representation of, or…