Monday, August 24, 2015

Critics, watchdogs question stealth Cuba lobbying campaign

Critics, watchdogs question stealth Cuba lobbying campaign
By SUSAN CRABTREE • 8/24/15 12:01 AM

Opponents of the Obama administration's effort to normalize relations
with Cuba and some ethics watchdogs are questioning the lack of
transparency behind a million-dollar advocacy campaign that pushed for
the historic thaw.

Two articles — one that was published in the September/October issue of
Mother Jones, and another in the January edition of The Nation — detail
the back-channel negotiations and behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign
leading up to President Obama's December rapprochement to change five
decades of U.S. policy and renew ties with the island nation.

Both reports also give a Denver-based progressive government relations
firm, the Trimpa Group, credit for an elaborate behind-the-scenes
lobbying campaign that helped press the administration into action on Cuba.

But there are no lobbying disclosure records on Congress's searchable
database on the Trimpa Group's Cuba campaign, according to a Washington
Examiner review of the files.

For two years leading up to the Obama administration's rapprochement
with Cuba, opponents of the policy heard rumors of various lobbying and
public advocacy campaigns taking place on the issue, but could never
track the funds or identify who was orchestrating it.

"All we want is a level playing field," said Jason Poblete, a lawyer and
registered lobbyist representing 10 American families pressing the Obama
administration to recover billions of dollars in seized assets the
Castro regime took after the country's 1959 revolution.

"Americans who were injured by the communist regime in Cuba deserve
justice," he said. "The U.S. government and elected leaders need to
speak for them and defend their interests."

Several ethics watchdogs interviewed for this article say lobbying
disclosure is based on self-reporting, and there are so many loopholes
and so little enforcement that it's difficult if nearly impossible to
tell if firms are breaking the spirit or the letter of the disclosure law.

Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, said
it's conceivable that the Trimpa Group did nothing legally wrong in
failing to file lobbying disclosure reports. But she also said that
doesn't make it right.

"I think most Americans would be shocked to find out that a
million-dollar campaign could be run to effect Washington policy and it
can go essentially unreported in the official channels," she told the

John Wonderlich, the policy director of the Sunlight Foundation, a
non-partisan nonprofit dedicated to making government more transparent
and accountable, agrees with McGehee. He said firms or trade
associations that lead the lobbying campaigns often are not required to
file lobbying disclosure reports because they are doing the strategic
planning and are not involved in contacting members of Congress or
administration officials directly.

Ted Trimpa is CEO of the Trimpa Group, and he was dubbed "Colorado's
answer to Karl Rove" by The Atlantic. Trimpa got his start in politics
working for former Kansas centrist GOP Sen. Nancy Kassebaum. In an
email, Trimpa referred the Examiner's inquiry about the lack of lobbying
disclosure reports for the firm's Cuba activities to James Williams.

Williams served as director of public policy at the Trimpa Group and
worked on the Cuba campaign before leaving in early May to become
president of a 501(c)4 called Engage Cuba, which is focused on lifting
the trade and travel restrictions between the two countries.

Williams didn't return several calls and emails from the Examiner. But
he was still sending out Cuba-related tweets on Friday, touting stories
in the Washington Post about an arugula farmer in Cuba starting a
culinary revolution and another from the Boston Globe on Cuba opening
its doors to U.S. travelers.

An automatic reply to Williams' Trimpa Group email account lets people
know about his transition to heading Engage Cuba after "four incredible
years" at Trimpa.

Source: Critics, watchdogs question stealth Cuba lobbying campaign |
Washington Examiner -

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