The Qatari government just did something very unusual for the Trump era in Washington: it hired a Democratic lobbyist.
This month, the Gulf monarchy’s D.C. embassy brought on board a new government relations firm, Praia Consultants, that is run by Serbia’s former ambassador to the United States and a Chicago political consultant named Dan Shomon. The former ambassador, Vladimir Petrovic, raised money for Barack Obama’s Senate campaign, and Shomon is a longtime Obama associate and former top political aide who began cashing in on the relationship even before Obama was elected president.
Such political connections are standard fare among high-powered political lobbyists. What makes Qatar’s hiring of Praia significant is its particular value-add. Qatar has spent years trying to ingratiate itself with President Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans. The country’s Washington lobbyists include multiple former Trump campaign aides; people with close ties to Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney; and even a former White House aide who paused her work for Qatar to join Trump’s staff, then resumed it upon her departure.
Now it’s hiring a firm geared towards courting the other side of the aisle.
It’s not just Qatar either. A number of lobbyists with ties to Obama, Joe Biden, and the Democratic Party have seen an uptick in business this year as Biden faces off against Trump in a hotly contested presidential race. After months of polls showing Biden leading the incumbent nationally, and most survey models predicting a victory for the Democrat, corporate America has begun to hedge its bets, moving more chips to the Democratic side to account for the possibility—or in the expectation—of a Biden win.
“Corporate American follows the conventional wisdom,” one prominent Democratic lobbyist told The Daily Beast, “and the conventional wisdom is that Joe Biden will get elected president.”
Though not a segment of corporate America, the Qatari embassy’s decision to hire Praia underscores the trend. Petrovic founded the firm just last month, and foreign agent disclosures filed with the Justice Department say that he and Shomon will be splitting the revenue from their new lobbying agreement with Qatar. Neither of them responded to requests for additional information.
While Praia’s website markets the firm in nonpartisan terms, its principals are clearly better suited to lobbying officials on the Democratic side. In addition to his fundraising for Obama, Petrovic has worked with prominent Democrats including former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former Michigan Sen. Carl Levin. Shomon, meanwhile, hawks his political consulting and government affairs services with an almost exclusive focus on his long standing connections to Obama.
“We both have a lot of friends working for Biden,” Petrovic told Foreign Lobby Report, a news service that tracks foreign agent registrations, of his and Shomon’s new practice. “I worked with Democrats for years, and so has Dan. We’re hoping things are going to change [in Washington].”
They’re not the only ones hoping for—or expecting—a political change in November. Other lobbyists with ties to Biden have seen business swell this year.
On March 1 and 2, 2020, the days before the Super Tuesday primary contests that all but secured Biden the Democratic presidential nomination, a lobbying firm called theGROUP picked up two new blue-chip clients: manufacturing giant 3M and investment bank JP Morgan Chase. The firm also signed oil company BP and the government of the District of Columbia in the ensuing months. And those four lobbying accounts represent the most it’s ever signed in a calendar year, according to lobbying disclosure forms.
Working on all four of theGROUP’s new accounts is Sudafi Henry, a partner at the firm and the former director of legislative affairs in Biden’s VP office. The firm brought in $850,000 in lobbying revenue in the second quarter of 2020, disclosure records show, making it its best quarter to date.
Biden has pledged not to accept campaign contributions from registered lobbyists. But Washington’s professional influence-peddlers have other ways of backing his presidential bid, and Democrats’ larger electoral hopes in November. A super PAC backing Biden’s presidential bid was founded by a lobbyist, the late Larry Rasky. And dozens of others have reported raising money for party committees including the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Those sorts of donors present opportunities for companies looking to influence a Biden administration in the event it materializes in January. They frequently know the people who will end up in senior policymaking positions, and have earned some chits over years of financial support for Democratic candidates.
Some of those Democratic “bundlers” have also seen a spike in business this year. Subject Matter, the lobbying firm run by high-dollar Democratic fundraiser Steve Elmendorf, has signed 20 new clients this year alone, according to lobbying disclosure records, more than it’s ever signed in a single calendar year.
Other firms appear to have assigned their top Democratic talent to more new accounts than they have in the past. Democratic fundraisers such as David Reid of the firm Brownstein Hyatt and John Michael Gonzalez with Peck Madigan Jones—a member of the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008—have both taken on more new lobbying clients in 2020 than they have in past years, disclosure records show.
It’s not just Democratic lobbyists getting in on corporate America’s turn towards Biden. When a group of former Republican members of Congress came out and endorsed Biden on Monday, some of the Democrat’s critics noted that nearly half of them are or have been on the payrolls of companies looking to influence policy in Washington, often in ways that conflict with the president’s policy agenda. One of them, former Google government affairs boss Susan Molinari, even spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week.
“There are many reasons for a Republican to oppose Trump,” wrote Tim Carney, a Washington Examiner columnist and fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, of their collective endorsement. “But we ought to at least consider that when they’re backing Biden, they may be trying to bolster their clients’ interests.”