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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ukraine: Lobbying and Unlobbying

Turmoil in Ukraine has sparked a boomlet of lobbying in Washington, with an almost five-fold increase in the number of companies and organizations weighing in with lawmakers and officials.
The subject is so sensitive that the lobbyists even more than usual want to be heard and not seen.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Coca-Cola Co., Xerox Corp. and General Motors (GM) Co. were among the 29 companies or interest groups adding Ukraine to the list of issues they discuss with federal officials, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. Senate for the first quarter of 2014. That’s up from six in the final three months of 2013, according to the forms, which don’t say how much is being spent on the issue.

While Russia accounts for only about 1 percent of total U.S. trade, $38 billion in 2013, American-based companies are the biggest source of foreign investment in Russia, according to a 2013 report by Ernst & Young.
Companies are “concerned about potential for a sanctions war, and what sanctions are chosen and how the other side seeks to retaliate,” [former diplomat Thomas] Pickering said. For the U.S. and Russia, “this could be a very mutually destructive possibility.”
Sensitive to public perception -- and that of the government officials they seek to influence -- many companies are describing their mission as anything but “lobbying.”
The U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA), for example, describes its efforts as “general in nature and related to education and keeping an open dialogue,” according to Curtis Smith, a spokesman for the company.
“Because we currently operate in Ukraine, it’s important that we continue to monitor and understand trade controls and sanctions closely and respond appropriately to ensure that we comply with all applicable international sanctions and related measures,” Smith said in an e-mail.