By David L. Phillips
Turkey has mastered the art of buying influence in Washington. It pays expensive consulting contracts to lobbyists for “strategic consulting services in connection with political and public policy issues before the United States Government impacting the Republic of Turkey's interests." Turkey also makes major gifts to think-tanks, which act like lobbyists, circumventing the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Fourteen U.S. firms and individuals have filed documents with the Department of Justice disclosing their work as agents of the Republic of Turkey, its embassy, or its Ministry of National Defense. These firms have ties to former politicians on both sides of the aisle.
HalkBank, a state-owned Turkish bank, recently hired former Congressman Bob Wexler and Ballard Partners for $375,000 each quarter. Mehmet Hakan Atilla, Halkbank’s deputy general manager, has been charged by the Justice Department for conspiring to evade sanctions on Iran.
The Gephardt Group, founded by former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt was hired by Turkey from February of 2016 through December of 2016 for $1.7 million. The Gephardt Group sub-contracted Capitol Counsel LLC, led by former Republican Congressman Jim McCrery, for $32,000 a month. The Gephardt Group also sub-contracted Greenberg Traurig LLP, where Rudy Giuliani works, for $40,000 each month.
Greenberg Traurig subcontracted The Daschle Group, founded by former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The Daschle Group was to receive $432,000 in 2017.
Turkey and its embassy hired Amsterdam & Partners LLC for $50,000 each month, which subcontracted Mercury, which receives $20,000 each month. Paul Manafort was employed by Mercury.
The Flynn Intel Group, run by General Michael Flynn, was paid $530,000 by Turkish concerns to advance Turkey’s national security interests.
In May, Burson-Marsteller signed a contract with the Turkish Embassy for $1.1 million. Capitol Counsel gets $32,000 each month; Madison Group $20,000 each month; McBee Signal $20,000 each month; Jim Arnold $20,000 each month; MediaFix gets $9,000 each month. Turkey also paid APCO Associates $741,000 in 2016.
Think tanks are also cashing in. The Brookings Institution received multi-year six-figure gifts from the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD), a progressive trade promotion agency traditionally tied to Turkey’s secular establishment.
The Atlantic Council of the United States has also benefited from Turkish largess. According to its web site, the Atlantic Council received gifts from the Turkish government and other Turkish sources beholden to the Turkish government in FY 2015:
- Turkish Ministry of Energy & National Resources ($250,000-$999,999).
- Türkiye Halk Bankası A.S. ($100,000-$249,000).
- Türkerler İnşaat ($50,000-$99,000).
- SOCAR Turkey Enerji A.Ş ($25,000-$49,999).
In 2013, the Atlantic Council released a list of "foreign government entities" that have given funds over the previous five years. The list includes Turkish concerns (without amounts):
- Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS) (Turkey)
- Istanbul Natural Gas Distribution Company (IGDAS) (Turkey)
- Turkey Army College
- The Electricity Generation Company (EUAS) (Turkey)
- Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) (Turkey)
Turkish sources do not give money to be nice. Funds support the Atlantic Council’s annual regional energy and economy conference in Istanbul, and office operations.
Al-Monitor reported on the Atlantic Council’s participation in the visit of Erdogan to Washington in May 2017, DC. “Atlantic Council leadership is enthusiastically pursuing its relations with Erdogan and reportedly drew up a detailed memo for him offering advice on how to handle his meeting with Trump.”
The Atlantic Council arranged a forum at the Turkish Ambassador’s residence for Erdogan to pitch Washington luminaries such as Madeline Albright, William Cohen, and David Petraeus. Erdogan asked for help getting the U.S. to suspend military assistance to Syrian Kurds. He also demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen.
While the Atlantic Council was inside the residence providing a forum for Erdogan on May 17, U.S. citizens were outside being beaten up by Erdogan’s security guard. Nineteen members of Erdogan’s security detail have been indicted by a Grand Jury.
An Atlantic Council employee testified at a hearing of the Europe Sub-committee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April 2017. Witnesses are required to submit a “truth in testimony” disclosure form. Question 5 asks: “Since January 1, 2013, have you or your organization(s) received any contract or payment originating with a foreign government related to the subject of the hearing or your representational capacity at the hearing?”
The Atlantic Council’s 990 Form submitted to the Internal Revenue Service indicates that Turkey, Azerbaijan and other governments are financiers. The Congressional Research Service should do an analysis of money flowing to think-tanks, including where the money comes from, for what purpose it is given, and whether think-tanks are functioning like lobbyists. If so, their 501(C)3 tax-deductible status should be revoked.
In addition to the law, there are ethical issues. Turkey just signed a contract for $2.6 billion to buy S-400 missiles from Russia. Turkey’s President Erdogan is increasingly authoritarian, stealing elections and jailing opponents. In the Turkey case, think-tanks taking money from Turkish sources are abetting an anti-American and anti-NATO agenda.
Contractors and think-tanks pocket huge sums from Turkey. Time to spotlight Turkey’s investment in their activities.
Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He worked on U.S.-Turkish relations as a Senior Adviser to the Department of State. His recent book is An Uncertain Ally: Turkey Under Erdogan’s Dictatorship.