Some U.S. companies concerned over proposed U.S. sanctions on Turkey

Newly available filings required by the U.S. Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) indicate that a number of U.S. companies swung into action during the last quarter of 2019 to lobby the government regarding sanctions on Turkey.

Corporations rarely outline positions on U.S. policy in LDA disclosures, but several of the companies that had to disclose their lobbying on the subject of sanctions in their quarterly filing also have business interests in Turkey that could be complicated if not damaged by proposed U.S. sanctions.

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogann launched a military incursion into northeastern Syria in October, it drew fierce recriminations from bipartisan members of the U.S. Congress. Prior to the military operation, U.S. congresspeople were already pressing for President Donald Trump to implement sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia.

Frustrated by Trump’s resistance to implementing available sanctions options, a flurry of new bills were introduced to Congress that would require sanctions packages against Turkish officials and entities. One such bill passed the House in October and another, the Risch-Menendez bill, passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December.

The U.S. think-tank community has widely advocated for targeted sanctions on Turkish officials and entities directly involved in the purchase of the S-400s under current law, as established by the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA).

Experts have been less supportive of the new sanctions bills proposed in Congress. Nate Schenkkan, the director of special research at Freedom House, told Ahval in December that he was worried “broad new sanctions are going to hurt average Turkish citizens and help Erdoğan, because he can blame the decline of the economy on sanctions, whether it is true or not.”

Broad sanctions would also harm the interests of a number of U.S. companies. Major aviation corporations, including Boeing and United Technologies Corporation, have lobbied the U.S. government regarding sanctions on Turkey, however it is impossible to know what percentage of their respective lobbying outlays of $3.4 million and $2.27 million in the last quarter of 2019 where spent specifically on Turkey-related issues.

United Technologies, whose subsidiary Collins Aerospace makes the next-generation ACES 5 ejection seats for U.S. military aircraft, also hired American Defense International to lobby Congress on defence appropriations and potential sanctions on Turkey, paying the lobbying firm $30,000 in the last quarter.

Two Texas-based oil and gas companies conducted narrower lobbying efforts last quarter, focusing on the proposed sanctions bills. Remarkably, one, TransAtlantic Petroleum, paid major lobbying firm Akin Gump $40,000 to lobby against sanctions, while the UAE was simultaneously paying Akin Gump millions, in part to lobby for sanctions on Turkey. The other Texas company, Baker Hughes, spent $60,000 in house to also lobby against sanctions.

Bechtel, a global leader in the design, procurement, construction, and management of oil and gas facilities, also disclosed lobbying regarding sanctions legislation. It has built a third of worldwide liquified natural gas capacity, a crucial energy source for Turkey. In total the company spent $200,000 last quarter to lobby Congress on a variety of bills.

Baker Hughes and Bechtel are members of the American Petroleum Institute, the largest U.S. oil and gas trade association, which also paid Ogilvy Government Relations $100,000 last quarter in part to conduct “general discussion related to Turkey sanctions and the energy industry,” with Congress.

One U.S. company outside the aviation and hydrocarbon industries that is also concerned about potential sanctions on Turkey is the North Carolina-based Glen Raven Inc., which relies on Turkey as a source of raw materials for the wide range of fabrics it produces. They paid Missy Branson, the former chief of staff and legislative director for North Carolina Representative Howard Coble, $16,000 last quarter to monitor the potential for sanctions.

A handful of U.S. non-profit and political organisations also disclosed lobbying activities conversely arguing in support of sanctions. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies registered a sister lobbying arm, FDD Action, in November to lobby Congress on a number of the think-tank’s foreign relations positions, including criticism of Turkey and Iran. FDD Action reports spending $20,000 on lobbying last quarter.

The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) has a long history of lobbying for strong U.S.-Greece relations, paying Andrew Kaffes $7,500 almost every quarter since 2007.

This year, they tasked Kaffes with lobbying in favour of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act that passed in December. The act provides support to the growing cooperation between Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and indirectly Egypt that isolates Turkey in regional affairs.

AHEPA’s LDA disclosure for the last quarter of 2019 further noted it lobbied in support of the sanctions bill that passed the House in October and the Risch-Menendez bill, “to impose sanctions on Turkey for its challenges [to] American security interests.”

Targeted CAATSA sanctions would have minimal impact on U.S. business interests, but it is clear broader sanctions proposed last fall drew enough concern from some U.S. companies that they each spent at least tens of thousands of dollars last quarter to oppose them.

Overall, Turkey is not a major export destination for U.S. goods and services though, so this spending may do little to blunt general bipartisan support in Congress for some form of sanctions on Turkey.