US lobbyist registers as foreign agent for increasingly authoritarian Cambodian government

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Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen (Greg Baker – Pool/Getty Images)

Perhaps looking for “a holiday in Cambodia,” to quote the punk band Dead Kennedys, a revolving door lobbyist with a lengthy history working for prominent Republicans recently inked a deal with the South Asian country’s controversial government.

Brian Wild, policy director at lobbying powerhouse Brownstein Hyatt recently registered as a foreign agent to represent the government of Cambodia, according to a FARA filing accessed using no deposit bonus forex’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool.

The registration document offers a vague description of his work for the controversial country, describing his mission to “provide government relations services and strategic counsel on matters before the U.S. Government.”

Wild has worked for a number of influential congressional Republicans before becoming a lobbyist. He was a senior advisor to John Boehner (R-Ohio) during his tenure as Speaker of the House and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) during his time serving as Majority Whip, as well as an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney from 2004 to 2005 and chief of staff to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) when he was on the House side.

Wild joins a team of six other Brownstein lobbyists that started working for Cambodia in March, according to FARA filings. The team, consisting of Alfred Mottur, Marc Lampkin, David Cohen, Ari Zimmerman, Brian McKeon and Doug Maguire, boast extensive ties to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

In March, the Cambodian government agreed to pay the firm a quarterly fee of $180,000 in a contract which runs until February 29, 2020.     

The expanding influence operation comes amid reports of the Southeast Asian nation’s growing crackdown on civil liberties and political opposition. Human Rights Watch reported that the Cambodian government grew increasingly authoritarian in 2018 when the ruling Cambodian People Party (CPP) seized full control of the legislature after dissolving the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and imprisoning the party’s leaders on treason charges. The Cambodian government alleged that CNRP leaders were colluding with the U.S. to overthrow the government.

Media organizations, nonprofits and civil society organizations are frequent targets of government harassment and criminal investigations. The nation’s last independent newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, was sold under government pressure in May 2018 to a Malaysian businessman with close ties to the nation’s leader, Hun Sen.

Later that month, the government decreed its power to remove any digital or written content that it deems to be “willfully creating turmoil that undermines national security, public interest and social order.” Activists, filmmakers and journalists have been routinely arrested and convicted on charges related to centuries-old colonial laws.

On May 17, the State Department released a statement decrying the death of a CNRP member while under police custody. The statement said that the U.S. is “deeply troubled” by the death and called on the Cambodian government to “remove undue political restrictions on all persons in Cambodia and to release those prisoners who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully detained” and asked for the release of Kem Sokha, the CNRP leader currently under house arrest for the alleged conspiracy with the U.S.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed Cambodia’s 2018 elections in a statement, describing the process as “neither free nor fair.”  

Citing Cambodia’s democratic breakdown, the Trump administration announced an $8.3 million reduction to military and economic assistance programs in late February 2018. This may have played into the Cambodian government’s decision to hire the Brownstein team, as the nation has beefed up its lobbying presence by additionally hiring PacRim Bridges LLC to lobby on their behalf in the past two months.

PacRim Bridges was formed in 2017 by sitting Washington State Sen. Doug Ericksen (R), who controversially served as an election observer in a decision condemned by Washington Governor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee. Ericksen was part of the “beachhead” team that helped run President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign in Washington state. He is joined at PacRim by former Washington State Rep. Jay Rodne, also a Republican.

According to the contract, Cambodia’s government will pay the two state officials $500,000-a-year for their services to “promote improved relations between the USA and the Kingdom of Cambodia.” The work will include meeting with federal and state officials and setting up “cultural exchanges and visits” between Cambodian and U.S. officials.

In a recent staff editorial, the Seattle Times called on Ericksen to either end the deal with Cambodia, citing the country’s myriad of human rights abuses, or resign as a state senator.   

Before hiring Brownstein and PacRim, the Cambodian government had not hired foreign agents since 2003. Most lobbying from the nation had been at the behest of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, who paid D.C. strategic communications firm BerlinRosen $310,000 since 2018 to publish anti-CPP opinion articles in prominent media outlets.

American opposition to Cambodia’s authoritarian shift is increasingly bipartisan, evidenced by Democratic and Republican support for Rep. Ted Yoho’s (R-Fla.) Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. The bill denounces the current Cambodian government and would implement a variety of economic sanctions against the country’s government and military leaders.

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