Huawei lobbying cash lands on Trump donor with Ukraine clients

Chinese tech giant increased lobbying expenditures 2,000 percent in the third quarter

K Street Northwest is seen as the center of the lobbying world in Washington. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
K Street Northwest is seen as the center of the lobbying world in Washington. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 24, 2019 at 9:20am

Huawei Technologies USA Inc. upped its lobbying expenditures by more than 2,000 percent between this year’s second and third quarters, with most of the increase going to pay a Trump donor with recent Ukrainian clients.

The U.S. operation of the giant Chinese technology company disclosed nearly $1.8 million in federal lobbying expenses between July 1 and Sept. 30, recent lobbying disclosures show.

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Huawei’s tech products and software have been criticized by lawmakers of both parties as potential security risks due to the company’s close ties to the Chinese government.

Lobbyist Michael Esposito of the firm Federal Advocates reported earning most of Huawei’s spending — almost $1.7 million of that total. He registered to represent the client beginning on July 24.

Esposito did not respond to a request for comment; a U.S. spokesperson for Huawei also did not respond to requests for comment.

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In his quarterly report, Esposito disclosed lobbying on “Telecommunications issues before the Administration,” including the White House, the Executive Office of the President and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security.

Esposito is the only lobbyist listed as working on the Huawei client, but Federal Advocates includes other lobbyists. Jennifer Arangio, who served on the Trump administration’s National Security Council staff as senior director for international organizations and alliances, is also a lobbyist at the firm. Her clients include Dubai firm Opus Capital Asset Limited FZE, Machine Learning Integration of Texas as well as PetSmart, according to lobbying disclosures.

Federal Advocates’ quarterly haul of nearly $1.7 million from Huawei is a particularly large sum for a client to pay an outside consultant. Esposito’s other clients in the quarter paid the firm far less, records show. For example, the firm’s next-biggest client, Polk County, Iowa, paid $170,000 in the third quarter.

Esposito’s federally reported lobbying activity dates back to at least 2006. Over the years his firm has worked for numerous local government entities. On Dec. 21, 2018, he registered the firm to do foreign lobbying under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

He registered two Ukrainian clients and one client in Poland, FARA records show. He registered to represent the “Justice” political party of Ukraine; another client he disclosed as “Civil Organization, Citizen,” also of Ukraine; as well as Zeset of Poland.

Esposito is also registered to lobby for CARBIO, a biofuel concern in Argentina.

He registered Zeset as a client under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and said it was involved in the sale of construction and commercial equipment. He reported earning $400,000 from Zeset in an LDA filing early this year and explained the scope of the lobbying as working “with the federal government to promote democracy, political stability, and economic development in Europe.”

In a July FARA filing, Esposito did not report receiving any additional money from his trio of foreign clients.

“During the reporting period, registrant’s activities were limited to requesting meetings on behalf of a Ukraine Justice party official with the Vice President, Secretary of State, and National Security Advisor for the purpose of discussing the current geopolitical situation and ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia,” the filing stated. “The meeting requests were declined.”

According to Esposito’s biography on the Federal Advocates website, he “serves on the Republican National Committee Chairman’s Advisory Board. He is an integral part of the senior-most leadership of the RNC and directly advises the Chairwoman on issues of significance to the nation.”

The longtime lobbyist donated $15,000 on March 13 and another $15,000 on Aug. 14 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee that splits its haul between the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee, according to federal campaign reports.

Esposito says on his firm’s website that he serves as a member of the Trump Victory Finance Committee.

He also donated $5,600 on Aug. 6 to the Dan Bishop Victory Committee, federal campaign reports show. Bishop, a Republican, won a special election this year in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district.

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