Key White House ally lobbies on behalf of Egyptian regime

Revolution is brimming in Egypt, but the embattled government can count on a slew of high-powered K Street lobbyists to whom the Arab nation is paying $1.7 million a year.

Egypt’s heavy-hitters include Tony Podesta, who has visited the White House at least 12 times during the Obama presidency, including twice with Obama himself and once with acting Chief of Staff Pete Rouse, and Bob Livingston, the Republican former chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The issue of Americans lobbying for Egypt is important because the government there, more-or-less an American ally but with a dismal human rights record, could topple. The American government will have a significant interest in the situation that could potentially cross-cut with the interests of Podesta and Livingston’s client.

A group of four firms coordinate their work for Egypt under the banner of the PLM group. Egypt paid the firms a total of around $1.65 million in 2010, according to the latest disclosure filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The other two big players are Toby Moffett, a onetime Livingston group lobbyist who set out on his own, and Vanguard Government Strategies, a small firm headed by William “Skip” Miner and Curtis Silvers.

Podesta, Livingston and Moffett set up the team in 2007, which was then paid $1.1 million a year. Vanguard came into the picture afterward.

The lobbying team has done extensive work for Egypt, and Podesta, Livingston and Moffett have all played key roles with backing from numerous lesser lobbyists at their firms.

The Podesta Group’s most recent filing under FARA lists scores of contacts made by 14 Podesta lobbyists and numerous efforts made by Tony Podesta himself.

For instance, on March 11, Podesta called Justin Burkhardt and Liza Bruno with New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen “regarding an invitation for dinner at the Egyptian Embassy,” the most recent filing says.

He also called Stacey Leavandosky and Monica Swintz with Democratic Calif. Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Robert Primus with Democratic Mass. Rep. Mike Capuano about the dinner.

Andrew Kauders did the major lifting on lobbying a series of key lawmakers about Egyptian relations.

Livingston made even more extensive efforts on behalf of Egypt than Podesta, for instance accompanying “the Egyptian military delegation” to a special dining room reserved for Members of Congress in the Capitol.

Livingston “had occasion to introduce” the delegation to 16 members of Congress, the filing says, listing which members met Livingston’s foreign clients.

Besides the lucrative pay, perks include two “decorative boxes,” a gift from Egypt to Podesta Group in the first half of 2010.

On Friday, Egypt’s authoritarian government, led by long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak, struggled to quell the increasingly intense anti-government demonstrations that threaten to overthrow the regime.

Lobbyists who’ve represented foreign governments say the issue is complicated.

“From the very beginning you have to ask a basic question: is what I’m doing going to help improve relations between the U.S. and this foreign government or not? Two, are you willing to try to convince your client to change its government’s policies? In that case, you can be doing some good as well,” said one veteran of representing foreign governments.

The source said American lobbyists should always maintain their allegiance to their own country over the foreign client’s interest, with the goal being to find where the two interests meet.