PR firm helps Libyan rebels to campaign for support from US

Libyan rebels battling against Moammar Gadhafi have signed up a well-connected public-relations firm to help them earn recognition from the U.S. government.

The Harbour Group has signed a pro-bono contract with the National Transitional Council, according to Justice Department records. The council formed in Benghazi, Libya, in opposition to Gadhafi’s military forces. 

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Harbour Group will be working with the council’s U.S. representative, Ali Aujali, who resigned as Libya’s ambassador to the U.S. in protest in February as the revolution began to hold.

Richard Mintz, Harbour’s managing director, will help manage the PR effort on behalf of the council.

“It’s the right thing to do. They need help and we are pleased that we are able to do that. It is in the U.S.’s interest, in the world’s interest,” Mintz told The Hill.

Reuters first reported last week that the PR firm was preparing to file its contract with the rebels’ council with the Justice Department.

With the council having been officially recognized by a number of countries — including France, Italy and Qatar — part of the firm’s work will be earning that same recognition from the United States, according to Justice records. Other goals for the Harbour Group are to encourage U.S. humanitarian aid to Libya and to push for the release of Gadhafi’s assets frozen by U.S. financial institutions to help pay for that aid.

To achieve those goals, the firm will help prepare speeches, press releases and op-eds, contact reporters and think tanks and develop a website and social media for the council.

According to the contract, the firm “will provide all of its professional services free of charge to the council,” though the council will be “directly responsible” for “major expenses,” such as Web design and travel.

The Harbour Group is plugged in politically — Mintz is a former director of public affairs for the Clinton administration’s Transportation Department — and is already familiar with the Middle East. The firm is helping to implement “a public diplomacy program” on behalf of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, according to Justice records. 

Other law and lobby firms have recently signed up to work pro-bono on behalf of opposition figures 

Covington & Burling signed a contract with Alassane Ouattara on a pro-bono basis. Outarra is the internationally recognized winner of the Ivory Coast’s presidential election last year, though the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, has refused to step down, leading to fighting in the West African country.

Jefferson Waterman International also signed an agreement with Ouattara with the understanding that compensation will have to come later, once his government was formed.

Gbagbo was captured Monday by forces loyal to Ouattara.

Unrest in the Middle East has led to more business for K Street, with Bahrain’s government and a lawyer for Ahmed Ezz, considered a close political ally of resigned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, signing up with firms.

Other PR and lobby shops have lost business, however. Chlopak, Leonard Schetcher and Associates saw its contract with the Egyptian embassy end a month earlier than planned, while the Washington Media Group dropped Tunisia as a client due to the government’s failed crackdown on protesters.