We already knew that the Republic of Georgia has some high-placed American contacts. Orion Strategies, the DC lobbying firm run by Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, has been representing the country since 2001, focusing primarily on boosting Georgia's effort to gain admittance to NATO (Scheunemann is currently on leave from Orion while working for McCain). Indeed, Orion signed its latest contract with Georgia on April 17, the same day that McCain announced support for Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, saying they'd just talked by the phone.
So it stands to reason that Georgia's prime antagonist of late, Russia, would be playing the Beltway influence game just as hard. And The Washington Post reports today that since 2006, Russia has employed Ketchum, one of the world's largest public-relations firms "to facilitate communication between Russian government officials and international journalists on key issues affecting Russia." And according to PR Week, since the start of the recent crisis with Georgia, Ketchum has been leading an "international consortium" of agencies, including the Brussels-based PR giant GPlus, to promote Russian interests.
And it looks like it isn't just the media that Ketchum has been working on Vladimir Putin's behalf. According to lobbying disclosure forms, Russia has, since February of this year, employed the firm Integrated Solutions Group* (ISG) to "support Washington-based government relations initiatives with Members of Congress and staff"--in other words, lobbying. ISG, notes the form, "is compensated ... through an arrangement with The Washington Group." The Washington Group is a DC lobbying firm owned by Ketchum. Indeed, the ISG lobbyist listed on the form, John O'Hanlon, is The Washington Group's managing director, and therefore a Ketchum employee.
It's worth mentioning there's no evidence of anything improper here. Indeed, representing Putin's government would seem to be business as usual for Ketchum, which employs 1100 people across 21 worldwide offices, and has worked with BP, Bristol-Meyers-Squibb, Dow Chemical, the Clorox Company, and the Bush administration, among other upstanding corporate and government citizens.
Ketchum is known for playing hardball. In 2005, it was revealed that, as part of a $1.3 million contract between Ketchum and the US Department of Education, the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams was being paid to promote the No Child Left Behind Act in op-ed columns and on his nationally syndicated TV show--without revealing the payments.
And two years earlier, Ketchum did similar work on behalf of the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services including hiring a fake reporter, Karen Ryan, to produce news "stories" touting the Medicare drug benefit that were sent to local news stations and wound up on air. The Bush administration was later found to have broken two federal laws in its work with Ketchum.
We're looking into ISG and Ketchum's (aka The Washington Group's) lobbying work on behalf of Russia. Which members of Congress did they speak to, and what were the results? Have these efforts influenced the US response to the Russia-Georgia crisis? We'll let you know what we find out.
*Corrected from an earlier version.