Lobbying used to seek media interviews for PM

Washington: An eminent American lobbying company hired by the Indian embassy here, primarily on the issue of Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, was used among other things to seek media interviews for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and get Congressional resolutions passed in his support ahead of a US visit.

Open source documents reveal that the company`s services were also used to fix a dinner appointment for the Indian ambassador with a luxury magazine and roundtable with new media outlets.

The documents show that at least since 2005, Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR), a Washington-based lobbying company, has been lobbying on behalf of the Indian government for an annual fee of about Rs 3.4 crore (USD 700,000).

Payment details and activities of BGR with regard to India have been posted by ProPublica and SunLight Foundation, which say they have obtained the information from disclosure forms of the lobbying firms submitted to US Justice Department under strict Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). So far they have posted information on foreign lobbying – all the countries and foreign firms – for the years 2008 and 2009.

BGR declined to give its comment on it. "We do not comment on our client work. Please know BGR fully complies with all registration and disclosure requirements," its spokesman Loren Monroe told PTI.

The Indian embassy did not respond so far to the questions sent by PTI to it in this regard. However, sources in the embassy said the mission uses both direct contact and outreach consultants, as appropriate, to maximize outreach and impact.

The embassy sources said that such consultancies are normal tools in the conduct of government and media relations in the US, and the embassy uses these legitimate resources to ensure the most effective projections and articulation of India`s interest and concerns in this country.

In an article dated September 30, 2007, `The Washington Post` had reported that India had hired the services of BGR for lobbying on Indo-US nuclear deal.

The company`s website then had identified Robert Blackwill, former US envoy to India, as a pillar of its "India Practice." Blackwill is currently the Henry A Kissinger senior fellow for US foreign policy at Council on Foreign Relations.

According to the information provided by the joint project of the ProPublica and Sunlight Foundation, in 2008 and 2009 BGR made nearly 600 contacts on behalf of the Indian government. A glance at these suggests that BGR made contacts mostly with the members of the US Congress and their staff mainly on issues like US-India relations, 123 Agreement, H1-B visa, child labour, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, US-India Defence relations, climate change and even Reliance.

Among specific things, these efforts included lobbying on behalf of India with the staff of the then Senators, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, on H1B issue in April 2008.

Post-Mumbai attacks, according to these documents, BGR also lobbied for resolutions on 26/11 in the Senate and House of Representatives, writing e-mails to staff of US lawmakers.

Early in January 2009 – ahead of the inauguration of Obama as US President – BGR sought appointment from eminent lawmakers for a meeting with the then Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen.

According to the Propublica and Sunlight foundation joint project, compiled from the disclosures submitted by BGR to US Justice Department under Foreign Agents Registration Act, the DC-based lobbying firm wrote to BBC America and Charlie Rose Show on September 15, 2009 with an interview offer with Prime Minister Singh. These interviews, however, did not happen, the reasons for which are not known.