Talking Turkey

Posted April 1, 2003 at 6:27pm

Turkey, the nettlesome U.S. ally poised to win $1 billion in aid, has boosted its lobbying presence on Capitol Hill in recent months even as its own parliament rejected a Bush administration request to use key airfields on the Iraqi border.

Turkey recently inked a $600,000-a-year contract late last year with the Harbour Group to provide public relations work on Capitol Hill, according to newly released data from the Justice Department.

The Harbour Group, led by Joel Johnson, a close ally of Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) and former White House aide in the Clinton administration, joins a string of other K Street powerhouses that represent Turkey in Washington.

Perhaps Turkey’s biggest weapon on Capitol Hill is former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), a onetime chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the same committee that is expected to approve the $1 billion aid package today.

Former Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) also represents Turkey, as well as APCO Worldwide, a shop that houses former Sen. Don Riegle (D-Mich.).

In all, Turkey is expected to pay more than $2.4 million on lobbying Congress and the Bush administration this year, up from about $1.8 million in 2002, according to the Justice Department records.

Timur Soylemez, a spokesman for the Turkish Embassy, said the lobbying firms help “make sure that if there are any obstacles along the way, we don’t trip over them.”

Up until earlier this month, Turkey faced few obstacles on Capitol Hill. Turkey has long been a strategically located ally for the United States.

But the relationship grew frosty a month ago when the Turkish parliament rejected a U.S. request to use the country’s bases to attack Iraq.

To sweeten the offer, the Bush administration offered the country a massive $15 billion package of aid and loans.

After the vote in the Turkish parliament in early March, the Bush administration and senior lawmakers slashed the aid package — which is included in the supplemental spending bill to fund the war in Iraq — to $1 billion.

“We should not be willing to provide huge sums of money to countries that twist our arm in our time of need,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the head of the Armenian-American Caucus.

Secretary of State Colin Powell plans to meet today with Turkish officials in Ankara to begin to try to repair relations.

The trip comes amid soured relations between the two countries, making Turkey’s Washington lobbying team all the more important these days.

“The basic idea is to overcome the political atmosphere and to further U.S.-Turkish relations,” Soylemez said. “We’re not the only ones in town using companies like this.”

Nevertheless, few countries rack up as much in lobbying fees than Turkey these days. Most foreign countries, particularly those in the Middle East, devote far fewer resources to Washington.

Egypt and Jordan, for example, together pay less than a quarter of the lobbying fees as Turkey.

Jordan retains Edelman Public Relations Worldwide for about $215,000 per year, while Egypt has Bannerman & Associates on an $8,500-per-month contract.

In the supplemental spending bill moving through Congress, Jordan would receive $700 million in relief while Egypt gets $300 million in help.

One of the few Middle Eastern nations that outpaces Turkey in the lobbying game is Saudi Arabia, which just extended an enormous contract with Qorvis Communications and Patton Boggs that cost $11.3 million in 2002, according to Justice Department data.

Saudi Arabia recently added former Rep. Tom Loeffler (R-Texas) and his firm Loeffler, Jonas & Tuggey to its Washington roster for $840,000 a year, according to the documents.

Still, Turkey’s lobbying effort is impressive.

Last year the country outpaced many major U.S. corporations, including Northwest Airlines, United Parcel Service and the U.S. Tobacco, according to lobbying figures compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.com for the first six months of last year.

Corporate lobbying totals for the second half of 2002 are not yet available.

The lobbying effort helps make Turkey a force on Capitol Hill. That power is displayed nearly every year when Turkish allies in the House beat back attempts by the 120-member Armenian-American Caucus to approve a resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide.

This year, lawmakers are wary of pushing the resolution while the U.S. military continues negotiations to use Turkish air bases near the Iraqi border.

However, the strength of the Turkish government was underscored Tuesday when House lawmakers easily rejected an amendment that would have struck the $1 billion package from the supplemental spending bill.