As a trading bloc, The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is one of the world's most powerful. Yet political influence here in Washington, even for the oil-rich nations, does not come cheap.
Since mid-2003, OPEC members will have spent at least $13.3 million in lobbying the U.S. federal government and currying favor with the American public, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of foreign agent lobbying disclosure records filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Unlike garden variety lobbying forms by U.S.-based clients and representatives, the foreign agent forms are extremely detailed. They even include details on specific meetings, who attended, and what was discussed.
All 11 member countries of the petroleum cartel have lobbyists representing their interests in Washington, including some of city's premier political power brokers.
"[OPEC] acts as a price regulator and indirectly affects American politics," said Michael Klare, the author of Blood and Oil and a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. "If prices go too high, that has implications for the economy. If prices go too low, that has implications for the Texas producers because their costs are too high."
The group's members have hired high-powered law firms and advocacy shops such as Hill & Knowlton and Barbour Griffith & Rogers to lobby legislators. They have contracted political consultants to devise elaborate media campaigns to win over public opinion. And they have wined and dined lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in the White House, all in the hopes of swinging U.S. foreign policy their way.
After renewing its diplomatic relations with the United States in June, within a few days Libya set up shop on K Street—the lobbying heart of Washington, D.C. Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime signed up Fahmy Hudome International, run by Randa Fahmy Hudome, a former associate deputy energy secretary in the Bush Administration under Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. The group focuses "on international issues and the energy sector," according to its lobbying disclosure filing.
Nigeria, OPEC's only sub-Saharan Africa member and fifth largest oil exporter to the United States, has been active on the political front as well. On behalf of the West African nation, the Atlanta-based Goodworks International held talks with President Bush's advisor on African issues, Dr. Jendayi Frazier, as well as Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., and Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J.
Why? Goodworks tried to halt U.S. sanctions against Nigeria for providing asylum to exiled Liberian dictator Charles Taylor.
Various political factions in Iraq have also enlisted lobbyists to help them make their case in Washington.
Members of the Iraqi Governing Council, such as Ayad Allawi and Adnan Pachachi, the Iraqi National Congress Support Foundation—connected to the infamous Ahmed Chalabi—and even the Kurdish Democratic Party have hired their own K-Street advocates. Unlike their lucrative work for other OPEC members, most K Street firms have agreed to work pro-bono for their new Iraqi clients.
"Oil exacerbates strife because typically in third world countries, oil wealth is controlled by a ruling elite or a ruling clique,"said Klare. "Whatever the case, whoever controls the state controls the oil revenue and has the ability to make people wealthy."
In the following series of reports, the Center for Public Integrity describes how the oil-rich nations of OPEC are attempting to sway U.S. policy and regulations in their favor.