At the end of May, ABC News pointed out that Nikki Haley was accepting donations from foreign lobbyists while she called for a ban on those very same foreign government advocates. It turns out, there’s a lot more to the story.
One of the lobbyists mentioned in the story—Oswaldo “Ozzie” Palomo of Chartwell Strategy Group—has worked on behalf of the Georgian government and the Social Democratic Party of Romania, and he has become one of Haley’s top contributors. In February, Palomo made a $6,600 donation to Haley’s joint fundraising committee, which was properly disclosed in Chartwell’s federal lobbying filing the next month.
But notably, even after the ABC report about Haley’s foreign lobbying support, Palomo made another contribution. This one, on June 16, was for $5,000, making Palomo a maximum contributor to both Haley’s campaign and her affiliated Stand for America PAC.
What makes the second donation particularly interesting, however, is that the lobbying firm did not disclose it, as the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires those who lobby for a foreign government to do.
Neither Haley nor Scott have refunded either contribution, according to FEC records.
The Haley campaign declined to comment on this story.
But in a phone call on Sunday, Palomo said Chartwell amended its filing after The Daily Beast flagged the contribution. As of Sunday night, the update had not appeared in the Justice Department’s online FARA database.
“It was an oversight during a hectic summer schedule,” Palomo said, citing family commitments and the end of the school year.
The disclosure form—Chartwell’s second semi-annual filing of the year—lists 19 other political contributions Palomo made over the same time period. That included 10 donations over the summer—two of them days after the Haley gift.
In all, the disclosure reflects tens of thousands of dollars that Palomo scattered across an array of GOP lawmakers, candidates, and political organizations between March and the end of August. Beneficiaries include Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and prominent members of Congress such as Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who clocked $2,500 from the lobbyist on June 21.
That filing also omitted a contribution that Palomo made to another Republican presidential contender, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who received $6,600 from the lobbyist in April, Federal Election Commission records show.
Palomo has long worked for interests in the countries of Georgia and Kosovo, and he added the Romanian Social Democratic Party to that list a year ago. His firm also represents two controversial foreign tech companies. One is NSO Group, an Israeli cyber-intelligence and spyware outfit that the Biden administration blacklisted in 2021 for equipping foreign governments with tools to “maliciously target” internal dissent.
The second tech firm is iFlytek, a partially state-owned Chinese business specializing in vocal recognition software. Human Rights Watch has accused the company of helping Beijing identify private individuals by their vocal signature in public places and on phone calls.
But amid backlash to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Fox News reported that Haley, a former U.N. ambassador under President Donald Trump, “decried anyone taking money from China as ignoring the ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims in the country.”
“To put it plainly, anyone who’s receiving a paycheck from President Xi is turning a blind eye to human rights and condoning the genocide of millions of Uyghurs,” Haley said at the time.
Chartwell’s disclosures also show a spike in outreach in the days surrounding Palomo’s second donation.
That contribution, on June 16, came as the firm’s lobbyists ramped up outreach to lawmakers and the media. Chartwell’s disclosures list a dozen Capitol Hill contacts and 49 media contacts on behalf of the Social Democratic Party—Palomo’s client—on the day before his Haley contribution. (The list included outreach to ABC News, the outlet that had reported Palomo’s first Haley donation.)
Palomo, of course, is not alone as a foreign lobbyist giving money to Haley.
David Horton Wilkins—former President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Canada and a registered foreign agent for Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia for over a decade—also donated $6,600 to Haley’s joint fundraising committee, according to the ABC News report. The campaign saw another $6,600 boost from a former lobbyist for the Russian Federation and its state-owned energy company, Gazprom, ABC News reported.
However, FEC records show that those two donors, along with Palomo, made their contributions before Haley began targeting registered foreign lobbyists on the campaign trail. Those comments, as ABC News cited, began emerging in April; the three lobbyists all donated in February or early March. Palomo’s second donation is the first known gift that Haley has accepted from a registered foreign agent after she began pushing her anti-FARA platform.
The foreign lobbyist donations are not a good look for Haley as she enters a crucial juncture in the campaign.
Pressure continues to mount around GOP rivals to drop out so a clear alternative to Donald Trump can take on the former president. And Trump himself is actively egging on Haley to attack Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Many Never Trump Republican campaign operatives consider Haley to be the candidate best positioned to consolidate the field as the Trump alternative.
But as she continues to surpass DeSantis in early state polling and remains only 5 to 6 points away from surpassing him in FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average, the Florida governor’s team has identified foreign policy as a clear weakness for Haley—and a controversy surrounding a foreign lobbyist maxing out to her campaign and PAC and failing to properly disclose those donations could fall right into their attacks.
China-related jabs have remained the lowest-hanging fruit for the Florida governor’s team, and continued ties to a registered foreign agent whose firm represents a high-profile partially state-owned business won’t help. On a near-daily basis, the Haley and DeSantis teams litigate which candidate is weaker on China, while the war in Ukraine as well as the Israel-Hamas conflict have only added fuel to the political fire.
DeSantis has tried to paint Haley as an out-of-touch neocon, with the Florida governor’s support for Ukraine much flimsier than Haley’s. The bottom line? The DeSantis campaign wants to hammer home Haley’s ties to the broader national security establishment, and attack her for being insufficiently “America First.”
“It’s a difference between record and rhetoric,” DeSantis told CNN in Iowa on Friday. “She’s trying to go a different direction on her rhetoric when it comes to China, but her record is writing the Chinese ambassador love letters saying, like, how great a friend China is. No, they’re not a friend; they are an adversary.”
DeSantis and Haley have also taken different sides in a proxy war around Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and his blockade of key Senate appointed positions within the military, with Haley opposing it and DeSantis continuing to back Tuberville.
Haley and DeSantis could go at it on any one of these fronts at the next debate on Wednesday, though Haley has tried to pass off attacks on her past connections to China as old news.
“You can talk about anything I did 10 years ago, that’s fine,” Haley said at an event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Oct. 9. “But what I’m talking to you about now is how we deal with it today, because that’s what matters.”
Her campaign disclosures are one place to start.