#18 (tie)

Independent Diplomat
(for Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic)

Hired: March 2008
2018 fees: $50,000

NEW Supplemental
(Nov. 1, 2019 – April 30, 2020)

Independent Diplomat was paid $10,000 by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic government in the six-month period ending April 30. For the Western Sahara work, the firm disclosed meetings with Rachel Smith-Levy, a political officer at the US mission to the UN, on Nov. 13 and Feb. 27.

Sahara activists piggyback off Algerian lobbying boost


Julian Pecquet



Julian Pecquet is the Editor of Special Projects for Al-Monitor, where he supervises the award-winning Lobbying Tracker as well as managing long-form stories. Before that he covered the US Congress for Al-Monitor. Prior to joining Al-Monitor, Pecquet led global affairs coverage for the political newspaper The Hill.

Posted: September 11, 2019

The Western Sahara’s pro-independence movement has seen its fortunes buoyed over the past year thanks to friends in high places and a lobbying boost by its Algerian ally.

The New York-based Independent Diplomat, which has represented the Polisario Front and its self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) since 2008, disclosed being paid almost $50,000 last year — more than twice the $24,000 it received in 2017. The nonprofit advisory firm notably met several times with officials at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the US Mission to the United Nations to make the case for an independence referendum in the disputed territory, which is administered by Morocco.

But those contacts only tell part of the story. The Sahrawis’ main international supporter, Algeria, also boosted its lobbying this past year, hiring former National Rifle Association President David Keene for $30,000 per month to boost Algiers’ fortunes with Republicans. The two parties work closely together: Registered agents for Independent Diplomat, for example, met with Gare Smith and Isa Mirza of longtime Algeria lobby shop Foley Hoag in April.

The Sahrawis scored a major win in the first half of 2018 when President Donald Trump tapped John Bolton, a longtime champion of the pro-independence cause, as his national security adviser. Bolton has not disappointed, calling for a referendum even though Washington has backed Rabat’s alternative autonomy plan as “serious, realistic and credible” for a decade.

“All we want to do is hold a referendum for 70,000 voters,” Bolton said in remarks at the unveiling of the Trump administration’s new strategy for Africa in December 2018. “It’s 27 years later, the status of the territory [is] still unresolved. … Is there not a way to resolve this?”

Bolton’s comments came days after UN envoy Horst Kohler restarted direct peace talks in Geneva for the first time since they broke down in 2012. But the envoy stepped down in May after two rounds of talks between Algeria, Morocco and the Polisario Front in a blow to US efforts to accelerate negotiations.

Congress has also been stepping in. In February, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., a longtime Sahrawi ally, visited the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, with five other senators in the first congressional delegation to the North African country since 2017.

But not all congressional attention has been welcome.

Reps. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., have reintroduced legislation condemning the Polisario Front “and its foreign supporters” for “recent provocative actions.” The nonbinding resolution follows Moroccan accusations that the group had moved military units into UN-monitored buffer zones in 2018.

The bill was first introduced in September 2018 just as Rabat was warning of links between Iran-backed Hezbollah and the Polisario Front. The resolution notes that Rabat broke diplomatic ties with Tehran in May 2018 citing Iran’s “purported support” for the Polisario Front but does not weigh in on that claim’s validity.

And House appropriators are once again making development assistance and economic support funds eligible for use in the Western Sahara in their fiscal year 2020 spending bill, a tacit recognition of Moroccan sovereignty. The Senate, where the Sahrawis have more allies, had yet to unveil its bill as of early September. 

In addition to their close ties to Algeria, the Sahrawis also have also long counted on support from a bevy of US experts and activists. These include David McKean of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in New York and Suzanne Scholte of the Defense Forum Foundation in the Washington area. (McKean left the center in July to take over as legal and policy director at the Washington-based International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.) Both McKean and Scholte attended Independent Diplomat’s meeting with Foley Hoag lobbyists in April.


Main lobbying firm:
Independent Diplomat




Total lobbying and PR spending for 2018



  • Algerian ally regains some US clout with new president
  • Legislation tying Polisario to Hezbollah goes nowhere
  • Ally Algeria boosts lobbying
  • Independence champion John Bolton out as national security adviser
  • Pompeo skips Algeria on trip to Morocco
  • Congress allows development aid in Moroccan-controlled areas

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