Morocco outspends Algeria by 8 to 1 on lobbying in Washington DC
Thanks to an article on the muck-raking website Pro Publica, I was informed of the launching of the amazing site foreignlobbying.org, which contains publically disclosed information about foreign lobbyists working in the US. Lo and behold, Morocco is on the list – on sixth place with 3,337,392 USD spent over part of 2007 and the whole of 2008 – of the most active foreign powers in Washington DC, where the bulk of the money is of course spent, mostly to influence Congress.
The methodology can be discussed: amazingly, AIPAC doesn’t appear anywhere, as it is stunningly enough considered as a domestic lobby, and Israel, its mentor, is thus not on the top-list – indeed, its total outlay on lobbying, AIPAC excluded, is stated as ludicrously low 253,912.67 USD – less than Algeria and a fraction of what Morocco spends. Of course, if AIPAC can get through unnoticed, others can as well. With that caveat however, the figures made public allow for some interesting comparisons between Morocco and Algeria, whose lobbying activities concern exclusively the Sahara conflict.
Here is what Pro Publica has to say about Morocco in its lead article (where it is btw not capable of spelling that name correctly):
A fight over independence
The Western Sahara  is an inhospitable patch of desert about the size of Colorado on Africa’s Atlantic coast, with a population of about 400,000, a GDP of only $900 million, and an economy based on nomadic herding, fishing and phosphorous mining. It is also one of the last colonies in the world — Morocco  annexed it a few years after Spain granted it independence in 1975 — and the subject of 34 U.N. Security Council resolutions on the territory since 1999.
In late 2007 and 2008, the desert region was a top priority for Morocco’s hired lobbyists. At issue was Western Sahara’s autonomy, but the story also shows how, in a foreign lobbying arms race, the side with the biggest arsenal can come out on top.
The government of Morocco sought the support of Congress in this lengthy territorial dispute. The region has long demanded independence. An indigenous insurgent group, the Polisario Front , waged a guerrilla war against the Moroccan military until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991.
Part of the terms of that deal included holding a referendum to determine the territory’s final status, but no vote has been held. In 2007, Morocco issued a proposal to grant Western Sahara autonomy within sovereign Morocco. The U.S. initially welcomed the proposal, and direct talks began between Morocco and the Polisario with the involvement of Algeria, which supports self-determination for the Sahrawi tribes from the area.
Toby Moffett, a lobbyist for Morocco who served as a Democratic congressman from Connecticut in the 1970s and ’80s, wrote an op-ed for the April 8, 2007, edition of The Los Angeles Times, explaining how he presented Morocco’s position to an unnamed member of Congress: “Morocco has a good story to tell,” he wrote. “It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the Western Sahara must be resolved.
“We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible Al Qaeda training area,” he wrote. “Algeria and the Polisario recently hired lobbyists, too, so we’ll have our hands full.”
Indeed, records show the Algerian government’s lobbyists had 36 contacts with members of Congress and staff promoting self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. The Algerians paid a modest $416,000 in lobbying fees.
By comparison, lobbyists for the government of Morocco had 305 contacts with members of Congress and their staff. Morocco paid $3.4 million in lobbying expenses — putting it among the top foreign government spenders for FARA filings in the period.
The intense campaign won converts. A bipartisan group of some 173 House members signed on to a statement supporting Morocco’s offer of autonomy for the region without formal independence. President Bush also expressed support  for Morocco’s plan in summer of 2008. And this April, 229 representatives sent a letter to President Obama urging him to back Morocco.
Until Obama reversed Bush’s stance  last month, Morocco’s investment worked.
I would be much more guarded on the last sentence – I don’t think that the reversal spoken of goes as far as is alleged – while Morocco’s autonomy plan is no longer the only show in town as far as the White House is concerned, the World Tribune article on which that assessment is based cites unidentified diplomatic sources, which could well be Algerian ones for all we know. The statement made before the Senate’s foreign relation committee by US ambassador to Morocco, Samuel Kaplan, certainly does not go that far, and is still mentioning a mutually acceptable negotiated agreement as the way forward, an option that falls much short of the Algerian government’s and the Polisario’s favored referendum option.
The marked Moroccan advantage over Algeria in lobbying expenditure is however stunning, for me at least. Unless there is some major cover-up, which I do not consider likely, it would tend to indicate the following:
- contrary to what many Moroccans believe or have believed (myself included), the Sahara issue appears to be eight times more important to the Moroccan government than to its Algerian counterpart;
- no other country than Morocco or Algeria spends lobbying money on the Sahara issue, a fair comment on the number of countries caring about this issue to the extent of spending some money on it (although I suppose that Madrid and Nouakchott would find that opinion unfair);
- however, whereas Morocco has some limited spending on mtters unrelated to the Sahara (through its Tourism Board, or on terrorism, human rights and bilateral issues), it is apparently the only lobbying issue currently worth the Algerian government’s money;
- the sums officially spent on lobbying in the US by either government amount to pocket money – to give a comparison, the official budgeted expenditure for the Royal Palace for 2008 amounted to 543 million dirhams, i.e. 68 million USD, or twenty times the amount spent on lobbying in Washington DC – as for Algeria and its bulging foreign exchange reserve, any comment would be superfluous;
- nowhere does the Polisario appear in the database – not a cent of its admittedly meagre financial resources is spent on lobbying in Washington DC, as its Algerian principal is footing the bill – cash being king, this sheds additional light on the internal hierarchy between the two
Of course, a few caveats are in order: the figures apply for a period lasting slightly more than one year – figures over a longer period might, or might not, be different. They only cover what passes as foreign lobbying according to the Foreign Agent Registration Act. As we saw, AIPAC is incredibly enough not covered by these figures, and neither is Suzanne Scholte’s reliably pro-Polisario outfit Defense Forum Foundation. As I wrote earlier on Obiter Dicta, the Defense Forum Foundation has paid over 114,957 USD over the years 2000-2009 for 66 trips to Algeria undertaken by members of Congress, mostly Republicans by the way. The amount of other expenses incurred by the Defense Forum Foundation on the Sahara issue is not known. These amounts are however not included in Algeria’s US lobbying budget on the Sahara dispute – nor are hypothetical similar costs incurred by pro-Moroccan organisations included in Morocco’s Sahara budget.
As for the rest of the Maghrib, Tunisia and Mauritania haven’t spent a nickel on lobbying in the US, whereas Libya easily outspends both Morocco and Algeria, with a total of 4,931,012.10 USD, out of which close to 3 million USD go to the mammouth law firm White & Case, marked as legal fees (no details provided).
Further reading: “Qui est Suzanne Scholte, pasionaria républicaine du Polisario?“, Obiter Dicta, Dec. 8, 2008