Saudi Arabia shifts advocacy into overdrive

Saudi Arabia shifts advocacy into overdrive

Saudi Arabia is ramping up its Washington advocacy machine in a desperate attempt to stop legislation that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the country.

It recently hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and Sphere Consulting, rounding out a list of new hires that also includes Squire Patton Boggs and Glover Park Group.

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Saudi Arabia now employs 10 U.S. firms, with the four hires adding more than $245,000 per month to the country’s lobbying and PR tab. All four contracts were signed last week.

In all of 2015, the country spent more than $9.4 million on legal, lobbying and PR services in Washington.

On Friday, President Obama vetoed the 9/11 legislation, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), saying it would threaten relationships with allies and put Americans at risk of lawsuits overseas.

The bill — which passed the House and Senate with unanimous consent — allows the families of terrorist attack victims to sue governments thought to be responsible. Right now, the lawsuits can only occur if the country is a State Department-designated sponsor of terrorism.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 hailed from Saudi Arabia. Critics have long suspected that the kingdom’s government may have either directly or indirectly supported the attacks, something the Saudis vehemently deny.

While it is thought that there is enough votes in both the House and Senate to overturn Obama’s veto, there is now a campaign to dissuade members from doing so.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure on Wednesday, and the House could follow by the end of the week.

While the contract with Brownstein is the only one that mentions JASTA, Politico reported on Tuesday that former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who co-leads the lobbying shop at Squire Patton Boggs, has been blasting emails to Senate staffers about the dangers of turning the vetoed legislation into law.

Companies like Boeing, Dow Chemical, General Electric and Chevron are also pressing lawmakers not to vote for the override, according to Politico.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is pushing his colleagues to let Obama’s veto stand.

“As tempting as it may be to override President Obama’s veto for the first time, please take a moment to study the consequences of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act,” Thornberry wrote in a letter to his colleagues.

“This bill will increase the risk to our military and other personnel around the world, and I must oppose it on their behalf,” he said.

The legislation, if made law, could have sweeping legal effects, but has primarily been framed as a measure that would give justice to the victims of 9/11. 

Saudia Arabia’s other Washington firms are PR Giant MSLGroup, Republican ad shop Targeted Victory, law and lobby firms DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells and heavyweight K Street shops BGR Group and Podesta Group.