By Debbie Gregory.
U.S. Military Veterans were paid thousands and thousands of dollars for hotel costs and travel expenses by Saudi Arabia. Their mission? Lobby Congress against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a law allowing the families of victims from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to sue the Saudi government.
The Qorvis MSLGroup, a Washington-based lobbying and public relations firm that represents Saudi Arabia, was said to have hired some 70 lobbyists to thwart the legislation. While JASTA didn’t mention any specific countries, 15 of the 19 hijackers that acted on 9/11 were Saudi, and supporters generally acknowledged that it was aimed at Saudi Arabia.
In their defense, many of the veterans who were recruited by lobbyists didn’t know the Saudi government was paying for the trips. The veterans were asked to don their medals and try to sway lawmakers in D.C., warning them of the possible unintended consequences of the law, saying other countries could use the law to sue U.S. diplomats, members of the military or U.S. companies.
Veterans lobbying against JASTA weren’t given any literature to distribute to members of Congress they were calling on. “Leave-behind” material is considered essential in any lobbying campaign.
Last September, Congress voted to override a presidential veto to give victims’ families the right to sue foreign nations found to have supported a terrorist attack.
To date, some opponents of JASTA still refuse to divulge exactly who they paid and how much they were paid. The chief lobbyist for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said it encouraged its subcontractors to be as transparent as possible.
Despite a legal requirement for lobbyists to immediately reveal payments from foreign governments, there have been no consequences for campaigners who failed to notify the Justice Department over Saudi Arabia’s role only months after they received funds.
Saudi Arabia’s rulers have long denied funding extremists.
While foreign lobbying is perfectly legal, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is not. FARA required that written communications in support of lobbying and public relations work on behalf of a foreign government carry a “conspicuous statement” notifying the audience that the material was prepared on behalf of a foreign government.