Ex-Congressman McKeon doubles down on Saudi Arabia lobbying efforts

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; former House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif.; and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

Long after firms had abandoned their lobbying gigs with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia following its alleged state-sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 
McKeon Group signed up for more.

The lobbying firm, run by former Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), reported half a million dollars in payments from the Saudi embassy in October and November to continue lobbying on behalf of the Kingdom’s interests, according to Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) filing released Thursday by the Justice Department made available through the Center for Responsive Politics’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool.

The largest of the two payments — $450,000 — came three days after Khashoggi’s death. McKeon was reportedly being paid a $50,000-per-month retainer to lobby for the Kingdom.

McKeon and his firm signed on to represent the Saudi government’s political interests shortly after he left Congress in 2014. McKeon served as the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and was a top recipient of defense contractor funds.

According to FARA disclosures, McKeon attempted to recruit several Republican House members — targeting his former colleagues and committee-mates — to cosponsor the Saudi-supported Houthis and Iran Sanctions Accountability Act (H.R. 4603). The bill would have directed the Trump administration to determine whether Iranians were “threatening Yemen’s peace or stability” and if so, impose sanctions on those individuals, along with penalizing financial supporters of the Houthi rebels.

On July 11, McKeon set up a meeting between the embassy and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who served as the top Republican on the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee under McKeon’s chairmanship. Wilson officially cosponsored the bill five days later.

Mckeon also attempted to gain the support of fellow committee members Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Steve Russell (R-Okla.) and Mike Conaway (R-Texas), though they did not throw their names in as cosponsors.

He also lobbied members of Congress on the subject of a War Powers Act resolution that would pull U.S. support from Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen. McKeon spoke with Senate Committee on Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) military legislative assistant about the resolution on Nov. 14 and contributed $1,000 to Inhofe’s campaign the same day. He gave a total of $3,000 to Inhofe’s campaign from July through November.

Inhofe voted nay on the Saudi-opposed resolution on Dec. 13 along with 40 other Republicans. In total, eight Republican Senators that voted against the resolution received a campaign contribution from McKeon between June 7 and Nov. 14.

In October, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Saudi lobbyists and foreign agents gave more than $1.6 million to federal candidates in the 2018 elections alone.

That estimate does not, however, include donations to House Armed Services Committee members from leftover funds in McKeon’s campaign committee while he was working as a registered foreign agent of Saudi Arabia and lobbying for defense contractors with major interest in legislation related to arms deals under the committee’s purview.

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