Ilhan Tanir
Jul 04 2019

Turkish minister spurned meetings after lobbying firm called hundreds of Washington politicians

Newly available Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) records show a lobbyist group in Washington reached out to nearly 150 Congressional offices to set up meetings for Turkish Economy Minister Berat Albayrak's visit in April.

Mercury Public Affairs, a well-established Washington lobbying firm that is also entangled in the Russian collusion investigation led by Robert Mueller, made nearly 150 phone calls and more emails exchanges with the staff of members of Congress to set up meeting for Albayrak, who is also Erdogan's son-in-law.

After the lobbyists spent days arranging them, the minister reportedly cancelled meetings at the U.S. Congress with senators and leaders during his Washington visit after he refused to go through a security device, Turkish press reported

Albayrak visited Washington on April 10 and met first with foreign investors before participating in other meetings, including at JPMorgan Chase & Co, to explain how his new economic reform package would reinvigorate Turkey’s shrinking economy.

filing

Minister Albayrak’s Washington visit was criticised as ineffective as observers reported that the minister offered little new information to investors during subsequent meetings about the government’s plans to tackle the problems facing Turkey’s ailing economy.

Some of the investors who watched Albayrak performance at the meetings were scathing in their criticism of the minister, leading to backlash from Turkey’s pro-government media outlets.

Eli Lee, a researcher on domestic and foreign influence and lobbying activities at corruption monitoring group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), was first to tweet on the long list of lobbying calls for Albayrak’s meetings noted on FARA documents.

Besides influential Senate leader Lindsey Graham and chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch, it is unknown how many of the members of the Congress accepted the requests to meet Albayrak, since the minister refused to enter the Congress.

The Turkey-U.S. Business Council (TAIK), which employed Mercury to contact the U.S. politicians on behalf of Albayrak, is described in a filing by the lobbying company as "not owned, controlled or directed by any government or government-affiliated person or institution.”

The same filing says funding for TAIK’s activities “come from general TAIK budget funds, which are funded bymembership fees and private sector sponsorships."

This raises the question of why TAIK, which is not affiliated with the Turkish government, would direct its lobbyists to set up meetings for the Turkish government minister in Washington.

Mercury also has a contract for the Turkish Embassy in Washington but that contract only covers PR work and media relations, and not government outreach for Turkey. It appears that the government affairs of the Turkish ministry were this time carried out by TAIK.