How Poland uses foreign lobbyists to fight PR wars and influence U.S. policy

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US Vice President Mike Pence, Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki and Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu (Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto)

As the diplomatic row between Poland and Israel continues over comments by Israeli officials about Polish history during the Holocaust, foreign lobbying filings show that since taking power the far-right Polish government has used U.S. public relations and lobbying firms to improve its public image.

The filings reveal the Polish government arranged a meeting with Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign, hired a PR firm run by former White House speechwriters to push its narrative on Twitter, and is attempting to build a monument in Washington, D.C. to commemorate a 1920 military rout of the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, the Polish government has used public relations firms to push its message on Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

As far-right governments spread throughout Europe, Poland’s lobbying efforts demonstrate that these governments are buying their share of influence in Washington, D.C.

Relations between Poland and Israel have gone sour since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently mentioned that some Poles collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The public spat worsened when the acting Israeli foreign minister said Poles “imbibe anti-semitism with their mother’s milk.” The Polish government has demanded an apology for the “racist” remarks and a summit of central European leaders hosted by Israel has been canceled.

Since the 2015 election of the far-right Law and Justice party in Poland, the country’s history with the Holocaust has become a point of contention with Israel.

The Polish government passed a law in 2018 making it an actionable offense to say the Polish government or people collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust. While many Poles were killed by the Nazis and many other Poles fought in the anti-Nazi resistance, thousands participated in the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Poland is also a flash-point of rising anti-semitism in Europe, as the country’s rising nationalism has given way to mass far-right demonstrations and racism against migrants. The Law and Justice party has faced further criticism for its consolidation of power in the media and courts.

To confront what it sees as unreasonable attacks, the Polish government hired a U.S. public relations firm in the fall of 2017 to promote its agenda among the U.S. intelligentsia.

The White House Writers Group, a PR firm founded by former speechwriters for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, was hired by the state-owned Polish National Foundation to promote Poland’s history, culture and alliance with the United States, according to FARA filings.

Among WHWG’s duties was to push back against criticisms of Poland’s judicial reforms, its policies towards refugees, and to “rectify the false narrative” of Polish complicity in the Holocaust, a narrative pushed by Poland’s “malevolent neighbors,” according to the WHWG’s foreign lobbying registration documents.

WHWG went on to develop a communications and media strategy for the Polish National Foundation, setting up a pro-Polish government website and Twitter account. The Twitter account, @PL_Perspectives, has over 3,000 followers, and seeks to fact-check narratives criticizing Polish history and its government.

The firm also arranged meetings with U.S. officials and businessmen, organized a panel on Poland at the conservative think-tank the Hudson Institute, aired commercials on Fox News and CNBC for the 100th anniversary of Polish independence, and put on a full-day conference on the relationship between Ronald Reagan and the Polish-born Pope John Paul II.

The firm is also working to erect a monument in Washington, D.C. to commemorate Poland’s victory over the Soviet Union in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw.

Clark Judge, a senior director at WHWG and former Reagan speechwriter, wrote in a letter to the Polish National Foundation that the firm’s activities “attracted, rather quickly, the attention of American allies (e.g. journalists, advisors to the US government, investors, business leaders, executives in key strategic sectors, academics, high-ranking members of the US military, staffers, etc ), and we engaged with those who approached us offering to help.”

He added that WHWG has tripled its staff working on its project with the Polish government.

Per its contract, WHWG receives a $45,000 monthly fee from the Polish National Foundation for its services. Since the start of its contract in October 2017, WHWG received a little over $3 million in expenses and fees through November 2018, according to its FARA supplemental statements.

WHWG did not return a message asking for comment.

Since its ascendence, lobbying by the Polish government under Law and Justice has extended even further into Washington, D.C., according to FARA filings.

Within months of taking power, the Polish government hired lobbying firm Park Strategies to lobby for increased military cooperation between the United States and Poland in order to maintain NATO’s defense of eastern Europe.

The firm organized meetings between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as the late-senator John McCain and other members of Congress.

In the previously unreported meeting, Park Strategies met with Trump to discuss Poland’s willingness to contribute more financially to NATO, a core campaign promise of Trump’s, according to FARA filings.

Through a state-owned defense company, the Polish government later hired the lobbying firm BGR Government Affairs to lobby Congress and manage public relations for the government.

BGR this month extended its contract, now with the Polish Minister of National Defense, continuing the $70,000-a-month lobbying fee it has collected from the Polish government since November 2017.

The Polish Chamber of Commerce in the United States has hired multiple other lobbying firms to promote U.S. investment and trade in Poland, paying out over $800,000 in consulting fees since last summer.

These firms have organized meetings with U.S. lawmakers to promote Polish interests and arranged roundtables with the Polish Ministry of Defense and media outlets like the Washington Post and Bloomberg.

As the U.S. ambassador to Poland has condemned the Israeli foreign minister for his comments on Poland’s role in the Holocaust, Poland’s political influence in Washington, D.C. raises new questions. A critical NATO ally, Poland’s newfound political clout in D.C. complicates the relationship between the United States, Israel, and the growing number of far-right governments in Europe.

 

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