Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who announced last month that he will seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, will hold a campaign fundraiser on Wednesday with an array of Washington lobbyists. One of the lobbyists co-hosting the event (and helping to raise money for Rubio) is BGR Group principal Jennifer Lukawski. She recently served as the registered foreign agent for a western African regime known for its human rights abuses, including repeated threats to behead gay people.
In April 2013, BGR Government Affairs LLC and the then-Secretary General of The Gambia signed a contract. In exchange for $45,000 a month (plus expenses), BGR agreed to “advocate and help build support for increased political and economic assistance from government and non-governmental organizations for The Gambia’s adolescent and adult female education programs. BGR may provide guidance and counsel on other issues from time to time as required.” Several weeks later, Jennifer Lukawski informed the Department of Justice that she would be lobbying for The Gambia pursuant to that deal. The arrangement continued until that December.
CREDIT: Sunlight Foundation
The government for whom Lukawski and BGR sought U.S. foreign aid was and is headed by His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh. Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 military coup was condemned on Saturday by U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice for his recent warning to LGBT people, “If you do it [in the Gambia] I will slit your throat — if you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it.”
While these comments came after Lukawksi’s tenure as The Gambia’s paid agent, they are nothing new for Jammeh. In 2008, he warned gay and lesbian Gambians to leave the country before he could enforce policies “stricter than those in Iran,” and vowed to “cut off the head” of any who did not. In a 2013 speech to the United Nations — during BGR and Lukawski’s work for his government — he warned that those who “promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence,” calling all “forms and manifestations” of homosexuality “very evil, anti-human, as well as anti-Allah.” More than a dozen suspected gay men people were arrested in 2012 and, in 2014, he signed a law allowing life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Jammeh’s human rights violations extend beyond his treatment of LGBT people. In her statement, Rice also noted an “alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia,” and expressed deep concern about “credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances – including of two American citizens – and arbitrary detention at the government’s hands.” Amnesty International has documented an array of violations under Jammeh and a March 2009 New York Times article noted “documented disappearances, torture and imprisonment of dozens of journalists and political opponents.”
The Gambia boasts of its efforts to expand access to education for girls and women. While promoting women’s education programs may be a worthy goal, questions abound about how trustworthy the Jammeh regime is and how they are using aid dollars to improve the lives on women. The government has received international criticism for its refusal to stop female genital mutilation, violence against women and girls,”>violence against women and children, and “[r]ampant government corruption and patronage.”
Lukawksi did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about Jammeh and her work on his behalf. But her official biography notes that she previously worked for the anti-LGBT Heritage Foundation and as a top aide for former Rep. Robert Dornan (R-CA), a rabidly anti-LGBT flamethrower who once outed a fellow Republican Congressman on the House floor, accusing him of having a “revolving door on his closet.”
In a speech last week outlining his self-described “Rubio Doctrine,” Rubio claimed President Obama has “embraced regimes that systematically oppose every principle our nation has long championed.” But his campaign did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry asking whether someone who was on Jammeh’s payroll is an appropriate person to have fundraising on his behalf.
Tickets to the “Mojitos with Marco” event start at $1,000.