While USMCA stalls, lobbying kicks into high gear

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The pending North American trade deal is stalled in Congress due to both Republican and Democratic opposition, even recently being deemed “dead” by former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman.

Negotiated over the past two years, this new trade deal, titled the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, is meant to satisfy one of President Donald Trump’s earliest campaign promises: a repeal of and American withdrawal from the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Everyone is getting in on the USMCA lobbying game — even foreign agents. Arturo Jessel, who had a hand in negotiating NAFTA, registered as a foreign agent for the Mexican government, according to a recent FARA filing accessed using the Center for Responsive Politics’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool. His role is to “provide advice and counsel on the passage and implementation of” the USMCA legislation. This includes monitoring the actions of Congress and the Trump administration.

Enlisting a foreign agent is just another aspect of the concerted effort to push the North American trade deal. Domestic lobbying efforts are springing up, mostly funded by businesses hoping to pass a crucial piece of Trump’s agenda. Two groups bring together a wide variety of corporations and associations under the confusingly-similar named Pass USMCA Coalition and USMCA Coalition.

A third organization, Trade Works for America, is a 501(c)(4), formed by Marc Short, before he was picked to be chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, and Republican strategist Phil Cox. One of the organization’s co-chairs is former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). In an Axios interview, Cox said the group hopes to spend $15 million to $20 million advocating for the legislation’s passage. 

According to a spokesperson for the organization, the group has spent $302,000 on digital advertising and $396,325 on television. The spokesperson described via email the coalition’s goal as “educating voters about how the USMCA will grow the economy and create jobs in their local communities,” as well as “for voters — and their congressional representatives — to recognize that the USMCA is good policy for American workers and supporting the agreement transcends partisan politics.”   

The spokesperson declined to provide details about where the money is coming from, instead emailing, “Trade Works for America is a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization whose members consist of businesses of all sizes and trade associations.”

At the end of April, Trade Works launched a “six-figure” TV and digital ad buy targeting voters in Iowa, Maine, Michigan, South Carolina, Wisconsin, New Mexico, California and Michigan. The 30-second ads target specific members of Congress including Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.). The ads tell viewers to call the representative and ask them to support the trade deal.

Trade Works spent $66,318 since March on Facebook ads. In the week of April 28 to May 4, it spent $11,270. The Facebook ads mostly target older users of the site.

Pass USMCA was an active spender in the early months of 2019. In the first quarter, it spent $30,000 on lobbying, employing eight different lobbyists. Three D.C. movers-and-shakers are listed as the coalition’s leaders.

One honorary chairman is former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), defeated by progressive challenger Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in the 2018 primary. After his defeat, Crowley took a swing through the “revolving door” to take a lobbyist job at Squire Patton Boggs. The group’s other honorary chairman is another revolver, former Washington Gov. and U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. Pass USMCA lists Rick Dearborn, former deputy chief of staff for policy under Trump, as its executive director.

Another recently defeated congressman, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), joined the group as an honorary co-chair at the beginning of May.

The coalition is composed of 28 different groups, predominantly trade associations. But it includes a few corporations, including Domino’s Pizza and Schneider Electric. The trade associations include a diverse set of interests from the National Chicken Council to the powerful Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the National Small Business Association.

On Facebook, the group has spent $21,436 on ads since the page’s creation in December 2018. Many of the ads target specific Democratic members of Congress such as Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) and Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), asking their constituents to tell the politicians to support the legislation.

The posts, predominantly targeted to Facebook users over age 55, often include a short video of construction and people working with the promise of “free markets, fairer trade and economic growth”  before asking viewers to call their member of Congress and ask them to support the legislation.

The USMCA Coalition boasts more than 200 companies and associations in its ranks.They include AT&T, John Deere and Kraft Heinz, along with a bevy of local chambers of commerce and trade associations such as the American Petroleum Institute and the National Restaurant Association.

The group is headed by a panel of seven lobbyist co-chairs, many with “revolving door” experience — Catherine Van Way, head of government relations for Cummins; Devry Boughner Vorwerk, corporate vice president of global affairs for Cargill; Ryan Modlin, vice president for North American global affairs at Owens-Illinois; Candida Wolff, executive vice president for global government affairs at Citigroup; Shane Karr, Head of External Affairs at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – North America; Laura Lane, president for global public affairs at UPS; and Tom Glaser, vice president at VF Corporation and president for Supply Chain.  

USMCA Coalition doesn’t appear to have run any social media ads on Facebook or Twitter yet.

These are by no means the only groups lobbying on the pending USMCA deal. So far in 2019, there are more than 1,000 different companies or groups lobbying on trade generally, many of whom list the USMCA or issues related to tariffs which play a crucial role in the deal’s approval process.

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