With DeSantis running, foreign governments eye people in his orbit


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For Qatar, Rubin’s firm helped facilitate meetings with government officials and provide PR assistance, first representing them in 2021. The firm also subcontracts out work to a progressive Florida-based communications firm, Edge Communications. The decision to renew the contract with Rubin, Turnbull and Associates gave the Middle Eastern nation continued access to one of the Republican Party’s most powerful and ascendant officials. Under the contract, which was filed with the Department of Justice, Rubin’s firm, which also counts a former DeSantis staffer among its ranks, is charged with government relations, communications, and public affairs “to advance the mutual interests of Florida and the State of Qatar.”

Rubin, whose clients include the cruise company Carnival (Florida had sued the CDC over rules for cruises), Google, and Southwest Airlines, did not return a request for comment. He’s been an established figure of the state’s GOP politics, having been a longtime friend and adviser to Florida Sen. Rick Scott. Rubin and his wife also served as co-chairs of DeSantis’ first gubernatorial inauguration in 2019. Beyond Rubin, Heather Turnbull, the managing partner at Rubin, Turnbull and Associates, also served on the inaugural host committee.

Foreign governments — like businesses or advocacy groups — have long turned to well-connected operatives and advisers as a way to push their interests before the government. Now, as the Florida governor emerges as the most viable GOP presidential alternative to former President Donald Trump, foreign entities are maneuvering to make sure that they had a line into his camp.

While in Congress, DeSantis was an outspoken critic of Qatar, signing onto an inquiry regarding enforcement of Qatari-owned Al Jazeera under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He also wrote on Twitter that he pressed the Qatari ambassador to the U.S. about the country’s “support for Iran and for the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In a statement, Qatar’s embassy maintained that the renewal of Rubin’s contract was simply a routine administrative matter and the timing was unrelated to the DeSantis presidential announcement or “any other political considerations.”

“The Embassy works with advisors in many parts of the United States as part of its diplomatic outreach mission,” the spokesperson, Ali Al-Ansari, said in an email. “Qatar’s principal interests in Florida involve expansion of bilateral trade and investment. Rubin, Turnbull assists the Embassy in promoting those interests.”

A spokesperson for DeSantis did not return requests for comment.

On April 12, the government of Japan inked a deal with the firm of Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist considered part of DeSantis’ inner circle. Ballard served as a co-chair of DeSantis’ inauguration earlier this year. His firm also represents Liberia, Guatemala, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (and represented Qatar years ago).

Less than two weeks later, DeSantis and his wife Casey DeSantis visited Japan, where he met with Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Japan’s Foreign Ministry released its own statements touting the visit.

In an interview, Ballard maintained that his work for Japan is bipartisan and for both Florida and Washington. He noted that DeSantis’ trip was already scheduled when his firm was brought on. However, a partner at the firm, Adrian Lukis, who served as DeSantis’ chief of staff, joined DeSantis on the trade mission, Ballard said. Lukis is a registered agent of Japan.

Ballard did not recall any government inquiring about DeSantis and said his firm recently interviewed with a “large country” that did not ask about DeSantis in the hiring process (he declined to name the country). But, Ballard conceded, there could be more business opportunities to come when a Republican nominee emerges.

“When there’s nominees in place, it probably is a very smart thing for forward thinking governments to do,” he said of foreign administrations hiring lobbyists to help them understand candidates for office.

Ballard has been through this cycle before. He began lobbying Washington at the beginning of Trump’s presidency, cashing in on his connections to Trump, who had few formal Washington ties or former staff who had spread out among the K Street crowd.

Ballard was among a small number of Trump-connected lobbyists who saw a boost in business years ago at the dawn of his presidency. After President Joe Biden won office in 2020, it fueled a similar rush of hirings. In fact, theGROUP DC — the firm where Joe Biden’s former director of legislative affairs Sudafi Henry is managing partner — registered to represent the Embassy of Japan in April, just days before the president announced his reelection campaign.

Guardrails exist to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections, including a ban on foreign nationals giving to campaigns. The Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, compels lobbyists for foreign governments to make some of the details of their work public. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort pleaded guilty for failing to register his work for the Ukrainian government under FARA, but he was ultimately pardoned by Trump.

More recently, the presidential campaign of Republican entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy employed consultants of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf. The campaign terminated those consultants after they filed as foreign agents.

The DeSantis orbit includes individuals who had previously worked on behalf of foreign entities but have, they said, since given up those clients.

Among those on that list is David Reaboi, a conservative personality who DeSantis’ team actively tried to recruit into his corner. His team hosted Reaboi and other influencers for an excursion that stopped at the governor’s office and mansion last year.

Reaboi has been registered as an agent of the Hungarian embassy since 2020. More recently, he has become a prolific pro-DeSantis commentator. However, he maintained to POLITICO that he has not done any work for Hungary since 2021, and even when he traveled to the country for CPAC about a year and a half ago, he had no contacts with government officials. Reaboi said he did not realize he had to file with the Department of Justice to terminate the relationship but he would do so.

Although she no longer represents the client, last year, DeSantis’ rapid response director Christina Pushaw back-registered as an agent of a Georgian and Ukrainian politician — Mikheil Saakashvili — for work between 2018 and 2020. Pushaw did so after being contacted by the Justice Department.

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( With inputs from : www.politico.com )

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