Did the Monitor Group Flout Lobbying Disclosure Rules?

Last week, we broke the story on the ties between the Qaddafi regime and a small cadre of Western intellectuals. The group included foreign policy luminaries like Harvard’s Joseph Nye, Sir Anthony Giddens, and Demos’ Benjamin Barber, who visited Libya between 2006 and 2007 on a series of trips funded and organized by the Monitor Group, a Boston-based consulting firm founded by a group of Harvard professors. Monitor had been contracted by the Libyan government for a project to “Enhance the Profile of Libya and Muammar Qadhafi,” and, ostensibly, to help devise economic reforms. (Nye and Barber later wrote about their visits to Libya in the distinguished pages of the The New Republic and Washington Post, respectively, without fully disclosing that they were paid Monitor consultants.) Monitor’s fee: $250,000 a month, plus an open expense account that maxed out at $2.5 million.

Smells like…lobbying. Yet Monitor failed to register with Justice Department as a “foreign agent” (a.k.a. lobbyist) for Libya. The Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) requires registration for US firms performing, among other things, “acts in a public relations capacity for a foreign principal”—which, according to internal Monitor memos obtained by a Libyan dissident group, is primarily what the Monitor project was about. So why didn’t the company register? As NPR has reported, “after being shown the provisions of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a spokesman said Monitor Group is examining that question in more detail.”

Was Monitor’s failure to disclose its business arrangement with Libya an honest oversight? Or was the firm deliberately trying to mask its ties (and the hefty amount it was being paid for its image rehabilitation services) to a dictatorial regime. If the latter, it certainly wouldn’t be the first.

Last month, Suzy Khimm reported on a former Bush administration official, Randa Fahmy Hudome, who had also lobbied for Libya. Fahmy Hudome, who is unapologetic about her work for the country, did disclose her agreement with the regime, and told Mother Jones that working for shady government’s like Qaddafi’s is only problematic when US firms attempt to skirt FARA’s disclosure requirements. As Suzy reported, “Unregistered lobbyists risk working against American interests and potentially embarrassing the US government.” And, of course, themselves.