Since joining Mitt Romney’s campaign as an adviser in 2011, Republican politician and “super-lobbyist” Vin Weber took up a position lobbying for Ukrainian interests on behalf of an association aligned with the ruling party there. Over the past year, Ukraine’s human rights record has come under fire, becoming only the latest in a line of clients with questionable practices taken on by Weber.
The Daily Beast reports that Weber appeared on a disclosure form as a lobbyist for the Brussels-based European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). A spokesman for Mercury/Clark & Weinstock, where Weber is a partner, said the group shares interests with Ukraine’s ruling party “to further integrate and align with the West.”
In practice, however, Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych has, as the Daily Beast notes, “at times sought closer ties with [Russian president] Vladimir Putin,” and carried out prosecutions against opposition figures that raised the ire of Western European neighbors. Romney, for his part, has called Russia “without question our number one geopolitical foe.” The Daily Beast, whch cited criticisms that Ukraine is “backsliding from a democratic revolution,” also noted that the EU “in December opted not to conclude a trade agreement with Ukraine” because of Yanukovych’s questionable tactics in consolidating power.
A group of Western European heads-of-state boycotted soccer matches in Ukraine this year as groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Ukraine to investigate allegations that Tymoshenko was beaten in prison.
But Weber’s lobbying did not begin with Ukraine. In addition to clients like Morocco, Greece, the Iraqi Governing Council, and Panama, a year ago, a ThinkProgress investigation revealed a pitch Weber made to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). In its annual report this year, HRW said that the U.A.E. “muzzled the right of its citizens to express themselves and to form independent associations.” In a follow-up in April, HRW joined with Amnesty International in condemning a “widening attack on dissent” in the tiny Persian Gulf sheikhdom.
In his 2005 proposal to represent the U.A.E. in Washington, Weber advocated portraying the UAE as a U.S. ally in combating terrorism and an observer of human rights. (That lobbying appears to have ended in 2007.) He boasted on his relationships with D.C. thinktanks like the American Enterprise Institute, and noted, “These are all groups with impecable reputations. Working with them goes well beyond writing a check — if that is even part of the relationship.”
Further burnishing his credentials as a Washington lobbyist, Weber was mentioned in connection with the scandal surrounding disgraced former Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay. Weber reportedly donated $1,000 to Delay’s legal defense fund, even as House rules prohibited money from lobbyists.
Romney has sought to portray himself as a Washington outsider, and attacked fellow Republican candidates for lobbying. But the former Massachusetts governor surrounded himself with lobbyists in both his current run and its 2008 iteration.