Korea Inc. – How South Korea Buys Influence to Pass Their Flawed Trade Deal

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call recently reported that the government of South Korea is paying Washington-based lobbying and public relations firms to push Congress to pass the pending Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA). Like farmers who apply nutrients to insure a good crop, foreign governments fertilize top K Street firms with cash to help facilitate their interests in the House and Senate. Thanks to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 or FARA, we are provided a window into these dealings. The purpose of FARA is to insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws. In 1938, FARA was Congress' response to the large number of German propaganda agents in the pre-WWII U.S. Under FARA filings with the Department of Justice, the South Korean government hired Singer Bonjean Strategies last September which is run by Phil Singer and Ron Bonjean. Singer, a former Democratic operative, has worked for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Hillary Clinton. Bonjean, the Republican, once handled press for ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert and worked for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). But Singer Bonjean is not alone on the South Korean payroll. The giant law firm of Akin, Gump, Straus, Hauer & Feld is part of the Korean lobbying effort as is the Glover Park Group. And for public relations, the Koreans have hired Edelman at $10,000 per month, to produce ads aimed at Korean-Americans touting the benefits of the trade deal. Edelman’s FARA documents show that the firm has a contract “to head up both an advocacy effort in support of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and an outreach program to engage Korean Americans.” Edelman has long been involved in controversial PR campaigns including work for the tobacco industry on fighting anti-smoking initiatives, to ensure that a dozen state attorney-generals did not join anti-trust legal actions against Microsoft, and spin for Wampler Foods after a US federal investigation into products from the poultry packing company were identified as likely to have caused a fatal outbreak of listeria. In 2005, PR Week reported that Edelman "is working with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry's primary lobbying group, on a public issues campaign aimed at convincing Americans that the industry is facing severe challenges, even as its members pull in record quarterly profits.” PR Week ranked Edelman as the number one PR agency in the United States in 2008, with 2007 revenue of $262,885,026, a 22% increase from the previous year's total revenue of $216,145,972. Glover Park Group, whose ranks include Susan Brophy, Joel Johnson, and Joe Lockhart, former top staffers to President Bill Clinton, has been engaged by the Korean government to arrange meetings with South Korean embassy officials with various congressional staffers, according to their FARA filings for this past winter. Glover Park Group had been retained by the nation of Taiwan "to push the US to sign a free-trade agreement with Taipei," according to a 2006 story in the Taipei Times, and in April 2007, Glover Park signed a $40,000 per month contract to push for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. According to Sourcewatch, “In May 2007 the Glover Park Group was retained by ProExport Colombia, the Colombian government's trade bureau, to ‘provide government affairs and lobbying services ... to assist in the passing of the Trade Promotion Agreement between the United States and the Republic of Colombia. ‘In its $40,000-a-month contract, which was signed by GPG's CEO Carl A. Smith, the lobbying firm undertook to develop "a strategy directed to support the ongoing efforts to promote favorable consideration in the Congress of the United States of America about the TPA (Trade Promotion Agreement)". Specific elements of the strategy GPG proposed were to: "Identify the most significant elements in the United States Congress, and particularly the Democratic Party, will bear in mind to determine their stand on the TPA;" "Based on a carefully elaborated diagnostic, propose to the Colombia government a comprehensive government relations strategy to reach out for broader support for the approval of the TPA in the United States Congress"; "Identify within the press, the Congress, the academy, business leaders and in general the United States society, speakers and leaders that can help the Government of Colombia to transmit its arguments and priorities in relation to the TPA"; "Implement the strategy for the above objectives, working closely with Colombian Government teams in Washington DC and in Colombia. This includes the necessary contacts and actions to promote support for the approval of the TPA in Congress of the United States.” All of this lobbying muscle and PR spin is needed because trade deals like Colombia and Korea don’t smell that good and need generous amounts of perfume and cologne to pretty them up for congressional ratification. Take the automobile section of the KORUS-FTA for example. On April 7, the U.S. International Trade Commission released a study that showed that even with the tweaks to the vehicle provisions negotiated by the Obama administration, South Korean auto imports would increase by almost $1 billion, more than three times the gain for American exports. Despite the bad news, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, who requested the ITC report, said we still need to approve KORUS-FTA. Yet with a straight face, Camp, a Michigan Republican, told Bloomberg “this report shows how effective our trade agreements can be in removing both tariff and non-tariff barriers to U.S. exports.” It is time that our elected officials know that we need to put American jobs and businesses first. Click here to take action now to call your members of Congress!