The Japanese conglomerate SoftBank has registered to lobby as part of its ongoing arrival into Washington, the company first told The Hill.
SoftBank, which owns most of Sprint, has been using contract lobbyists and not in-house lobbyists until they registered Thursday evening.
The company had no D.C. lobbyists in-house until Ziad Ojakli, who was Ford's top lobbyist, went to the company in August 2018 as senior vice president and global government affairs officer.
Ojakli had worked for Ford since 2004 and before that was in the legislative affairs office for former President George W. Bush.
“Still, we have a lot of work to do but we’ve largely been educating people as to what SoftBank is. As newbies here, we’re trying to understand the company,” Ojakli told The Hill. “Up through June we felt like there wasn’t any need to register but now, as we started getting deeper into the issues and especially on behalf of some of our portfolio investments, we felt that it was time to at least start that.”
The team registering to lobby is lead by Brian Conklin, vice president of government affairs. He has been with SoftBank since October 2018.
Conklin was at the United Services Automobile Association for over 11 years and before that was deputy assistant to Bush. Additionally, Jeff Dressler, former national security adviser to ex-Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (R-Wis.), Alison Jones, formerly with Ford, and Tonya Williams, onetime legislative affairs director for former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMarcus Garvey's descendants call for Biden to pardon civil rights leader posthumously GOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors MORE, registered to lobby.
Ojakli is not registering with SoftBank but is not averse to it, he said.
The four lobbyists will work on issues that reflect the portfolio investments, Ojakli said. That includes technology, financial services, data privacy issues, infrastructure and transportation.
“They run the gamut because the investments run the gamut. Whether in health care, or in transportation, or in construction, in all different segments. They all have different issues,” Ojakli said.
Over the last nine months, Softbank has been hiring up in D.C. and now has 13 people on the government affairs team.
“At Ford, I’d be able to come in the first day and you know where to turn because everything had been established over periods of time. Here, we just kind of came in. It’s brand new. We feel like we’re in our own startup,” Ojakli said.
Softbank has spent almost $1.5 million so far on total lobbying expenditures this year. That number includes the subtotal for subsidiary Sprint Communications, which accounts for the vast majority of that lobbying at $1.3 million alone.
Sprint retains Ballard Partners, Covington & Burling, the Raben Group and TwinLogic Strategies, among others. Ballard, which is the firm of Brian Ballard, a top fundraiser for Trump, makes the most from them, at $80,000 so far for the year.
In 2018, Softbank spent just over $3.5 million on lobbying expenditures, up from the nearly $2.5 spent in 2017. Its most expensive lobbying year was 2014, when it spent over $4.2 million, nearly $3 million of which was for Sprint. Sprint unsuccessfully tried to acquire T-Mobile that year.
SoftBank is the 36th biggest company in the world. Around the time SoftBank was staffing up in D.C., it was scrutinized for its relationship with Saudi Arabia during the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Founder Masayoshi Son was focused on investments coming from a fund, which Saudi Arabia was the biggest investment partner of.
“I think the company made the right call about having a government affairs presence because there are so many issues that are not only U.S. but worldwide that could really have an impact on the bottom line of any of these investments,” Ojakli said. “There are also a lot of better ways that we can serve better by working with government.”
Updated on June 28 at 3:55 p.m.