Saudi Arabia embraces high-tech lobbying

Saudi Arabia is tapping politically connected digital image-makers amid escalating tensions with Iran.

al-monitor A Saudi man explores a website on his laptop in Riyadh, Feb. 11, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser.
Julian Pecquet

Julian Pecquet

@JPecquet_ALM

Topics covered

saudi arabia, middle east, lobbying, iran, is, high tech, business, aipac

Apr 6, 2015

Saudi Arabia’s lobbying efforts are getting a high-tech boost from some of America’s most politically well-connected consulting firms amid growing tensions with Iran.

The kingdom’s main public relations firm, Qorvis, hired Republican digital outreach firm Targeted Victory for $40,000 per month in mid-March to help “provide strategic advice and digital consulting services for the promotion of and education on Saudi Arabia.” Targeted Victory will be paid another $15,000 per month for analysis of social media tracking data provided by San Francisco startup Zignal Labs.

Targeted Victory was co-founded by Zac Moffatt, digital director for the 2012 Romney for President Campaign, and former Republican National Committee official Michael Beach, and represents several high-profile Republican candidates and causes. Zignal Labs is the brainchild of Josh Ginsburg, former field director for the Romney campaign and before that political director for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In addition, the Saudi Embassy in Washington has just retained California-based international law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman for another $15,000 per month to provide “legislative advice” and “public policy representation” before Congress and the Obama administration.

The new contracts are among several recent changes to Middle Eastern nations’ efforts to influence the US government, according to an Al-Monitor review of lobbying disclosure reports available as of early April. Taken together, they indicate a stepped-up desire to get through to key US decision-makers as the region experiences a radical upheaval.

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Iraq in particular has stepped up its outreach to the officials in charge of the fight against the Islamic State, notably special presidential envoy John Allen. And the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee is still pushing two Iran bills that the Obama administration has warned could derail the nuclear talks.

Riyadh’s hiring binge comes as disagreements over Iran have caused the deepest strains to US-Saudi ties since the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Saudis are notably leading a pan-Arab coalition to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen amid a deep reluctance by President Barack Obama to get involved, and have warned that they will pursue a nuclear program to match whatever Iran is allowed in the ongoing international talks.

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