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Inside Hikvision lobbyist’s game plan to fend off sanctions

With Daniel Lippman

FARA FILING REVEALS HIKVISION’S D.C. STRATEGY: New documents filed with the Justice Department this week offer an inside look at how Hikvision’s hired guns in Washington sought to help the Chinese video surveillance company head off U.S. sanctions rumored to be in the works for allegedly helping the Chinese government monitor Muslim minorities.

Drew Willison, a former chief of staff to the late Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and a former Senate sergeant at arms who registered in May under domestic lobbying laws to represent Hikvision’s U.S. subsidiary, proposed a “quiet, targeted approach” to influencing the Biden administration, according to a copy of a strategy memo filed with DOJ as part of his FARA registration.

— The memo, which is marked “confidential,” is addressed to Michael Borden, a partner at Sidley Austin who registered retroactively as a foreign agent last week at DOJ’s behest. It was dated May 10, less than a week after the Financial Times reported on the possibility of the Magnitsky Act sanctions.

— Apart from outreach to those “that I know and trust personally to make connections to career staff,” Willison advised against reaching out to political appointees in the administration or White House officials, who he wrote “are far more anti-China than rank and file career staff.” Beyond that, Willision speculated that “Hikvision is not on the radar of high ranking staff at the White House and we should keep it that way.”

— The document provides a rare glimpse into the way former public sector employees pitch their connections around Washington for the benefit of paying clients — in this case, one whose products the U.S. charges have been used to surveil detention camps holding Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, accusations Hikvision has adamantly denied.

— Willison boasts in the memo that he knows one Cabinet secretary’s chief of staff who he said would be willing to connect him with one “target,” an official in the Treasury office that oversees sanctions. Likewise, he notes that a “friend from the Hill” now working at the Commerce Department had offered to make an introduction to an official in the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, which oversees the entities list Hikvision has been placed on.

— The memo suggests Hikvision should engage in “no Hill activity whatsoever,” with Willison warning that appealing to the Hill had the potential to backfire. He wrote that in general, he was encouraged that no other media outlet had independently confirmed FT’s reporting. Willison cited a conversation with a former Obama official who “agrees with us” that the leak more likely came from a competitor or politician and that the timing for sanctions “is wrong” given the attention on the war in Ukraine.

— Though Hikvision initially retained Willison to help the company with its sanctions threat, DOJ filings show the contract was extended in July with a broader remit of “lobbying and information gathering activities” related to the House and Senate. The full contract, which lasts until February, is worth $525,000.

Good afternoon and welcome to PI. It’s been 18 years since the Red Sox put a bow on their stunning come-from-behind ALCS defeat of the Yankees, but it still feels just as nice. What should we be looking out for as we pore over tonight’s LDA filings? Get in touch: [email protected]. And be sure to follow me on Twitter: @caitlinoprysko.

ANDREESSEN HOROWITZ TAPS MCHENRY AIDE TO LEAD CRYPTO LOBBYING: Collin McCune is leaving his post as a top aide House Financial Services ranking member Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) to head up government affairs for a16z crypto, the digital assets arm of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

— It’s a major hire for the firm, which has raised billions to invest in digital asset and Web3 startups and lured numerous former policymakers and regulators in its bid to shape U.S. crypto policy. McHenry, who is poised to become chair of the Financial Services Committee and who the industry generally views as a friendly face, stands to play a key role in those policy battles.

In a series of tweets, McCune thanked McHenry for “the opportunity to work at the forefront of digital assets policy for the House Financial Services Committee.” He added: “Advocacy in DC is at a pivotal moment. Our approach to laws and regulations over the next five years will impact U.S. competitiveness for decades to come. Now, more than ever, industry and lawmakers must work together.” Anthony Albanese, a16z crypto’s chief operating officer, called McCune “an invaluable addition to our team.”

JUDICIAL ACTIVISTS URGE ETHICS CHANGES FOR SPOUSES: “A coalition of judicial advocacy and watchdog groups are calling on Congress to establish greater disclosure requirements for the spouses of federal judges,” per our Hailey Fuchs.

— “In a letter sent to lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, the groups cite POLITICO’s report on potential conflicts posed by the professional work of Supreme Court justice’s spouses and the inadequacy of disclosures around that work.”

— “The four organizations — Fix the Court, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Free Law Project and the Project On Government Oversight — argue that language should be inserted into existing ethics law that would apply to federal judges whose spouses render ‘legal services; strategic or legal advice related to litigation, lobbying, or business activities; lobbying or public relations services; or testimony as an expert witness.’”

— “If the value of the service or bonus for that service is greater than $5,000, they must disclose the payer and compensation, states the draft language for legislation. Currently, the justices merely disclose their spouses’ jobs, not the identity of their clients or the level of compensation.”

WHO’S GETTING CHECKS FROM BIG TOBACCO: “Tobacco companies generally don’t donate to many Democratic candidates for political office. But this election cycle, Black Democrats in particular are getting showered with campaign cash from cigarette makers,” Stat’s Nicholas Florko reports.

— “Reynolds American, which is behind the Newport and Camel brands, has donated to 17 Democrats this election cycle, more than two thirds of whom are Black members of Congress, according to data published by the Center for Responsive Politics in late September. The political action committee for Altria, which makes Marlboro, has donated to only 37 Democratic lawmakers this cycle, but 16 of those recipients — 43% — are Black. Black lawmakers make up just 21% of sitting Democratic lawmakers.”

— “The donations come as these same companies rally opposition in the Black community toward the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to ban menthol cigarettes. A number of the lawmakers who received campaign cash have spoken out publicly against the proposal, citing concerns that such a ban could lead to increased policing of Black smokers, who largely prefer menthol cigarettes.”

— “One lawmaker has been swimming in tobacco industry checks. Rep. Donald McEachin, who represents the Richmond area of Virginia where Altria is based, has raked in $46,750 from Altria and Reynolds American so far this year, according to STAT’s tally.” That includes more than $20,000 from 20 Altria executives including the company’s CFO and COO.

BUSINESS ROUNDTABLE PRESSES STAFFERS FOR R&D AMORTIZATION FIX: The Business Roundtable and tax experts from Raytheon and Intel hosted a virtual briefing for Hill staff on Wednesday as part of the business and defense industry push for lawmakers to restore companies’ ability to immediately deduct research and development expenses, calling the issue “critical to address before the end of the year.”

— All three entities had previously signed on to a letter to congressional leadership warning that the amortization requirement, which went into effect this year, could result in job losses and even undermine national security if not reversed when Congress comes back to town following the midterms.

CORPORATE GIANTS THROW A HAIL MARY ON DACA:Microsoft, Apple, Meta and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies launched an ad campaign Thursday to push Congress to pass a new law that would secure the fate of migrants known as ‘Dreamers,’ part of a last-ditch effort to save the protections as federal courts seem likely to end the executive order that has protected them since 2012,” NBC News’ Julia Ainsley, Sahil Kapur and Julie Tsirkin report.

— “But both Republican and Democratic Senate aides say the effort has a slim chance of working and predict that Dreamers will most likely begin to lose their work authorization and security from deportation sometime early next year. Republicans, who are expected to increase their numbers in Congress in November’s midterm elections, largely oppose protecting Dreamers unless Democrats make significant concessions to beef up border security and turn away asylum-seekers, which they are unlikely to do.”

— The coalition is running ads in The Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News and Charlotte Observer warning of the economic fallout should federal courts disband the program, as recent rulings signal is likely.

— “‘Collectively, we represent the backbone of an American economy facing tremendous workforce challenges as a result of the pandemic. We face another crisis if Congress fails to act on an issue that has strong bipartisan support from the American people,’ said the letter, signed by Target, Starbucks, Microsoft, Amazon, Meta, Apple, Google, MGM Resorts and other companies, as well as the Business Roundtable.”

Mariah Sixkiller is now general manager for strategic defense affairs at Microsoft. She most recently was director of government affairs at the company.

Emma Doyle has joined Bondi Partners as a managing director running the D.C. office and leading the strategic advisory firm’s expansion into lobbying. She most recently was a managing director at Actum and is a Trump White House alum.

Grayling has added Bob Conrad as executive vice president and Alla Shkiler as senior vice president. Conrad most recently was senior media and content director at Syneos Health and Shkiler most recently was vice president at Ketchum.

R. Jordan Richardson is now an associate at Heise Suarez Melville. He most recently did a federal clerkship in Florida, and is a Trump White House and Labor Department…

Read More: Inside Hikvision lobbyist’s game plan to fend off sanctions

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