Taiwan pays US$900,000 for ally Guatemala to lobby Washington
Guatemala has hired for US$900,000 a major supporter of former President Donald Trump to seek influence with US officials in an unusual lobbying contract paid for by its ally Taiwan, foreign lobby records show.
Ballard Partners registered as a foreign agent with the US Justice Department on January 13, according to filings made public over the weekend. The contract, dated January 12, was signed by Alfonso Quinonez, Guatemala’s ambassador to the US, and Brian Ballard, president of the namesake lobbying firm and a long-time Trump ally.
It’s not clear how hiring Ballard, who years before Trump ran for the White House worked for him as a lobbyist in Florida, will be able to help Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei draw closer to the Democratic administration of President Joe Biden, which has repeatedly expressed concerns about corruption in the Central American nation.
On Sunday, the US State Department blasted Giammattei’s government for seeking to lift the immunity from prosecution of a judge who has won high honours in Washington for exposing bribery in Guatemala.
“This action against an internationally recognised independent judge weakens a vital pillar of Guatemala’s democracy and judicial system,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
In its registration, Ballard only said it would provide “strategic consulting and advocacy services” related to Guatemala’s interactions with the US government and US officials.
Justin Sayfie, a partner in Ballard’s Washington office, declined to comment further. But he said the request for Taiwan to assume responsibility for payment was not the firm’s idea.
“It’s unusual for one government to be paying the fees for lobbying for another government,” said Robert Kelner, an attorney specialising in compliance with foreign lobbying laws for Covington & Burling. “It’s not illegal. But it does raise a question of whether the government that pays also needs to be listed by the lobbying firm as a foreign principal.”
Guatemala in a statement thanked Taiwan for “the support that allows us to strengthen our positioning in the US”. It said the one-year contract with Ballard, for which it is paying $75,000 a month, will focus on strategic communication, investor outreach and promoting tourism.