Q&A With Congress: It's OK to Lobby for Foreign Governments

The proposed deal to allow foreign-government-owned Dubai Ports World to manage some U.S. port facilities has highlighted another aspect of the Washington lobbying scene: Foreign governments can and do hire former members of Congress and former high-ranking U.S. officials to be their paid advocates.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R.-Kan.), former Rep. Tom Downey (D.-N.Y.) and Carol Browner, who served as director of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton Administration have all been hired by the UAE-owned company. Browner currently works for The Albright Group, a consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served as America’s top diplomat during the Clinton years.

On February 23, the Charlotte Observer reported that "former Sen. Bob Dole had been hired as a lobbyist for the United Arab Emirates."

"Mike Marshall, a spokesman for Bob Dole, said that the former senator will be involved in lobbying Congress on the deal, but would not be lobbying his wife," the paper reported.

The next day, however, according to the Associated Press, Dole issued a statement "saying he would limit his involvement to discussions with Bush Administration officials and efforts to ‘help the American people better understand the real facts.’"

"I have not nor will I ‘lobby’ members of Congress on this issue, not even at home," Dole said.

The AP reported February 23 that Browner and Downey visited the office of Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) on behalf of the UAE-owned company. Albright Group spokeswoman Jamie Smith told the AP that Albright was not personally involved in the ports deal but had traveled to the People’s Republic of China in February on behalf the UAE-owned company. "Secretary Albright was in China with government officials and people in the private sector to help them better understand DP World’s interests in China," said Smith.

I could not find a congressman on Capitol Hill last week who would say that former senators should not lobby for foreign governments.

Bob Dole is lobbying for the UAE government-owned Dubai Ports World, should former senators do this?

Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.): He hasn’t spoken to me, and yes, former senators should be able to do it.

They should?

Biden: Yeah, if they’ve been out long enough, yes.

Bob Dole is a lobbyist for UAE. Should former senators lobby for foreign governments, in your opinion?

Rep. John Boehner (R.-Ohio): Under the 1st Amendment they have the right to do that, and it’s something former members do and some don’t.

Is it something you personally would consider in the future?

Boehner: I’m a majority leader, I’m not a lobbyist.

Well, in the future, after you are retired. Bob Dole was a leader as well.

Boehner: I’m not sure what I’ll do after I retire.

Bob Dole is lobbying for Dubai Ports World, owned by the UAE. Do you think former members of Congress should lobby for foreign governments?

Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.): You know, I think former members should, that’s really a decision for each individual member to make. I don’t think there’s any unique status to being a former member in terms of what you should be limited to in what you are doing. Beyond that I think the same lobbying rules ought to apply to everyone in the business.

Would you rule it out?

Cole: Yeah, I really would have a hard time doing it. It’s not something I’ve ever been interested in doing, and frankly, I used to feel this way as a campaign consultant. I was offered work overseas, I didn’t do that either. I thought, well, we have a lot of consultants that do. I think it’s wrong, personally, to be dealing in an issue that may well involve the foreign affairs of the United States and who wins and who loses. I don’t like it. I won’t even get into the individuals, but we quite often have American political campaign consultants involved on the two sides on the Israeli elections. And particularly, if you happen to be a consultant that happens to have a close relationship with the President or somebody senior you’ve really got to think about foreign policy. One of my clients was the mayor of Oklahoma City. I wouldn’t get involved in council races without talking to him because it obviously affected him. There are some real problems here, and again, I would not be inclined. I’m not ready to prevent people who want to be lobbyists.

But as a matter of propriety?

Cole: It’s not something I would want to do. I would honestly feel like, I wish most of those interests were dealt with government to government. I think foreign governments ought to be dealing primarily with the executive branch.

Bob Dole is lobbying for the UAE government-owned Dubai Ports World.

Sen. Susan Collins (R.-Maine): Yes.

Should former senators lobby for foreign governments?

Collins: I don’t have any problem with that. He’s been out of the Senate a long time, so there’s no revolving door issue here and I think he has every right to do so.

Bob Dole is lobbying for UAE government-owned Dubai Ports World. Should former senators lobby for foreign governments?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C): I think that there is no reason that a former senator can’t lobby for anyone within the law and it’s up to each current senator to decide what is best after being lobbied.

Now, Bob Dole is lobbying for the UAE government-owned Dubai Ports World. Should former senators lobby for foreign governments?

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah): They have a right to work for various entities and there’s nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, if they believe in what they, the UAE, if Bob believes that, Bob is patriot. He’s not going to do something he doesn’t agree with.

Should former senators lobby for foreign governments?

Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.): You know it’s a question I have not given any thought to.

Okay, so it’s not something you would possibly rule out for yourself?

Obama: Oh, I can guarantee to you I will never be a lobbyist. How’s that?


Right now Bob Dole is lobbying for the UAE-owned Dubai Ports World. Should former members lobby for foreign governments?

Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.): Well, I am not sure there should be a blanket rule on that. If they’ve been out for long enough before they serve as a lobbyist, being a member shouldn’t preclude that.

Would you rule it out? Or would you consider doing something like that?

Schiff: Well, I plan on sticking around here for a long time. That’s what I want to do. Bob Dole is lobbying for UAE-owned Dubai Ports World.

Should former senators be allowed to lobby for foreign governments?

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.): You know, they’ve done that, I guess, for many, many years, and I suppose it’s certainly legal and Bob Dole, certainly, virtually gave his life fighting for America. So I don’t in anyway dispute his loyalty, and the UAE has been in many ways an ally of ours, but I think it was a mistake to allow this thing go forward the way it did on the sale of the ports.

Would you personally rule out lobbying for a foreign government in the future?

Sessions: I don’t have any intentions to lobby for a foreign government.On port security, Bob Dole is lobbying for UAE government-owned Dubai Ports World.

Should former senators be allowed to lobby for foreign governments?

Sen. John Sununu (R.-N.H.): I think that provided that Sen. Dole or any other lobbyist is meeting all the requirements for disclosure I don’t think he should be prevented from taking up a particular client or from seeking a particular livelihood.