Awami League government spent $2.4 million on US government lobbying

Reports filed by lobbying firm show that Bangladesh government has regularly paid $320,000 per year to one firm to lobby the US government.

Awami League government spent $2.4 million on US government lobbying

Bangladesh’s Awami League government has paid a total of over $2.3 million to a US firm to lobby the United States government and elected representatives in the last eight years, filed financial reports show.

The reports show that every year since 2015, the Bangladesh government paid the lobbying firm BGR Government Affairs — previously known as Barbour Griffith & Rogers — about $320,000. However, in 2021, the government hired two more lobbying firms on short term contracts for a total of $75,000 — increasing the total lobbying spend to $395,000.

Earlier this week, following the US government’s imposition last month of financial sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion and on those army and police officers who have led it in recent years, Awami League parliamentarians have called on the government to hire a lobbying firm in the United States — apparently unaware that the Bangladesh government already hired three such firms last year.

This lobbying information is known as US law requires organisations or individuals, which lobby the US government on behalf of foreign entities, to provide financial and other disclosures on a quarterly basis.

The exact amount of money the Bangladesh government has paid is not known, since under the law the lobbying firm is only required to approximate the amount that it has spent on lobbying on behalf of a foreign client to the nearest $10,000.

BGR’s lobbying started on July 1st 2014 — six months after the national election that was boycotted by opposition parties. In that year the government spent only $160,000.

During the eight year period, filed reports show that BGR Government Affairs lobbied the Senate, the House of Representatives, the US Trade Representative and the National Security Council on behalf of the Bangladesh government. BGR’s website says that it is a bipartisan firm that “specializes in providing strategic advice, advocacy, and communications strategies for a wide range of clients, including governments…”

Little is known on exactly the issues on which the firm has lobbied, with the firm only stating that it concerned “Bilateral U.S.-Bangladesh relations.” However, disclosures show that part of their role was to respond to articles critical of the government as well as to distribute press releases and messages promoting positive news about Bangladesh.

The reports show that three particular staff members of the lobbying firm have lobbied on behalf of the Bangladesh government: Walker Roberts and Maya Seiden, both co-head of the firm’s International Practice division, and Mark Tavlarides, a member of the team.

The reports say that, on behalf of the Bangladesh government, Roberts has met the deputy chief of staff of the House International Relations committee and the special assistant to the president. Seiden is said to have lobbied the special assistant to the cabinet secretary at the White House; the advisor to the chief of staff at the energy department; the special assistant to the secretary of energy; the senior advisor at the office of the deputy secretary of state; and, the chief of staff of the deputy secretary of state for management and resources.  

The most recent disclosure by the lobbying firm was on October 20th 2021. However, the disclosed documents show that the business relationship between the Bangladesh government and BGR will continue until at least March 2022. A new contract was signed on August 9th 2021 by Shahidul Islam, the Bangladeshi ambassador to the United States, committing the government to continue paying the lobby firm £25,000 a month. “BGR will provide strategic public relations and government affairs counsel for the Government of Bangladesh,” the contract reads.

Netra news can also report that, in 2021, the Bangladesh government hired two other lobbying firms on short term contracts.

One was the Friedlander Consulting Group who was hired between September 5th 2021 and October 5th 2021 to “arrange meetings and exchanges between the top leaders of US and Bangladesh”. The company was paid $40,000. 

Another was Conewago Consulting LLC who was hired for one month from July 26th 2021 by the Bangladesh government. The submitted documents state that the “foreign principal” was the government of Bangladesh but that it was agreed through  the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI). The contract, involving a payment of $35,000, was signed by Salman Rahman, as chairman of BEI, who is also a member of parliament and the prime minister’s private sector adviser.  

Salman Rahman told Netra News that “BEI requested Conewago Consulting to promote enhancement of trade and investment between USA and Bangladesh to members of Congress.”

BGR and Friedlander Consulting Group have not responded to queries about details of their lobbying activity.●

* Correction: The Bangladesh government paid BGR Government Affairs about $320,00 per year, not $360,000 as noted in one sentence. This has been corrected.