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In the Tank: Charlie Black’s Mysterious Russian Lobby Client

charlie-black-ap-photo.thumbnail.jpgSenior McCain adviser Charlie Black lobbied for a mysterious Russian think tank in 2005, public records show. Black’s firm was paid $50,000 to lobby on behalf of an entity that could have been named by Borat, the Center for the Development of Information Society (CDIS).

Like McCain’s top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, Black is a career lobbyist with recent and lucrative ties to foreign interests. He is not a registered lobbyist today, but his firm continues to represent overseas interests while Black has unparalleled access to McCain.

Intrigued, I did some digging into the CDIS… 

According to this press release, the CDIS’s mission is to generate "new ideas" to continue "social progress" in the post-Putin era. The CDIS was also known as the RIO Center. It’s mission is to help build an information society in Russia. In March of 2008, the RIO Center renamed itself INSOR, a Russian acronym for the Institute for Contemporary Development. The group is associated with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s hand-picked sucessor. 

The chairman of the CDIS board is Igor Urievich, a lobbyist for a venture capital firm. The head of the board of trustees is the Minister of Information Technologies and Communication, Leonid Reiman.

Disclosure forms show that Black and three other lobbyists from his firm BKSH & Associates were hired by the CDIS to influence the State Department, the National Security Council, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Senate on unspecified economic, foreign policy, and technology issues in 2005. 

BKSH does not appear to have registered as a foreign agent of CDIS under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  Willful failure to register as a foreign agent is a criminal offense that carries serious penalties, or would do, if the government bothered to enforce the law.

BKSH registered with FARA to represent the Russian Information Agency, but that registration lapsed at the end of 2003. A 2003 contract between BKSH and the RIA stipulates that BKSH would provide government relations council and work with U.S. elected officials for the balance of the callendar year. Yet, there is no record of BKSH registered to lobby on behalf of RIA during 2003. Technically, BKSH was a subcontractor to Hannaford Enterprises on the RIA account. 

So, Charlie Black has a lot of explaining to do. Was he an unregistered lobbyist for the Russian Information Agency in 2003? And, why was he a registered lobbyist for a Russian think tank in 2005 without registering the contract with FARA? 

Interestingly, the Open Secrets database shows that BKSH also lobbied for INSORS (with an "S") between 2005 and 2007, during which time INSORS paid BKSH a total of $160,000 to lobby the House and Senate on defense issues and computer issues. One of the lobbyists on this account, Gardner Peckham, was also one of Black’s lobbyists on the CDIS account. Mother Jones reported that INSORS has paid BKSK $330,000 since 1998.

It’s not clear whether INSOR and INSORS are related. Outwardly, apart from very similar names, a shared focus on telecommunications, and a desire to give a lot of money to BKSH, the two don’t appear have much in common. INSORS, now IOCOM, is a Chicago-based telecommunications firm that just happens to have Gardner Peckham on its advisory board. 

BKSH refuses to disclose any information about its clients.

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In the Tank: Charlie Black’s Mysterious Russian Lobby Client

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

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