By Kevin Bogardus - 07/16/13 03:31 PM EDT
Ecuador has inked a $300,000 contract with a top lobby firm as it takes heat from Washington for refusing to rule out asylum for National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden. [WATCH VIDEO]
The Embassy of Ecuador has signed a roughly six-month contract with Van Scoyoc Associates to lobby Congress and the Obama administration, according to Justice Department records.
The firm “will provide counsel to the Embassy of Ecuador on strengthening the Embassy's ties to the United States government and relevant U.S. institutions,” which “will involve contact with officials of the executive branch and members and staff of the U.S. Congress where the Republic of Ecuador has a direct interest or need for advocacy and consulting assistance,” according to Justice records.
Ecuador has said it would consider offering political asylum to Snowden, the former U.S. contractor who leaked classified documents on U.S. surveillance programs. He is currently staying in the Moscow airport and searching for asylum.
The refusal to rule out asylum for the NSA leaker has strained Ecuador’s relations with the United States, which has charged Snowden with espionage.
Several prominent lawmakers on Capitol Hill have threatened to cut off trade ties with Ecuador if Snowden arrives in the country, and Vice President Biden has personally asked Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to rule out harboring him.
After lawmakers threatened Ecuador, the country responded by renouncing trade benefits with the United States and offering to pay $23 million to fund “human rights” education for America.
“Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits," said Fernando Alvarado, Ecuador's communications secretary, at the time.
One day after that decision to renounce trade benefits, K Street powerhouse Patton Boggs parted ways with the Embassy of Ecuador, according to Justice records.
Ecuador moved quickly to ensure that it would find new representation in Washington by signing up with Van Scoyoc.
Stu Van Scoyoc, the firm’s president and CEO, signed the agreement in July with Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States.
Along with Van Scoyoc, the lobbying team for Ecuador will include Jennifer Cave, Michael Shupp and Greg Van Scoyoc, according to registration forms they filed with the Justice Department.
A Van Scoyoc Associates spokesman said he didn’t have any additional comment about the contract with Ecuador beyond the firm’s filing.
The embassy said the K Street firm was chosen among several competing bids after a month-long search was triggered by their previous lobbying representation's contract expiring.
“We are very excited about partnering with Van Scoyoc Associates,” said Cely, Ecuador's ambassador to the United States, in a statement. “It is a priority for the embassy and for the government of Ecuador to participate in conversations that that will help deepen a healthy bilateral dialogue and strengthen a relationship that is of benefit to both countries — VSA will be an important asset in establishing that conversation.”
Ecuador’s tourism ministry also recently signed a 15-month contract with Development Counsellors International worth more than $300,000 to help market the country as a tourism destination in Canada and the United States.
— This story was updated at 6:10 p.m.