May 20, 2024 1:41 am

Millions Earned Lobbying for Foreign Nations in US Defense Budget

Millions of dollars were garnered by a Washington D.C.-based firm engaged in lobbying on behalf of foreign countries with vested interests in the outcomes of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is a crucial legislation that determines the budget for the Pentagon and military operations.

The BGR Group has openly disclosed their role as an agent representing various countries, advocating their positions in connection to the 2024 NDAA.

Following the release of the finalized version of the 2024 NDAA by a conference of members from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on December 7, the legislation is slated for consideration and voting by members of both houses of Congress before reaching the President’s desk.

BGR Group

BGR Group was engaged by three nations—India, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan—to oversee the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and relevant amendments through lobbying efforts. In a 2022 statement submitted by Chelsea Mincheff, General Counsel at BGR, the firm detailed its lobbying initiatives concerning the NDAA in the best interests of these countries. BGR disclosed a total income exceeding $2 million for its Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)-registered work.

Before joining BGR, Mincheff served as the legislative director for former Representative Tom Rice (R-S.C.) until May 2020. Hunter Strupp, Senior Director at BGR, played a consulting role in the firm’s contract with the Embassy of the Republic of India. Strupp previously served as the staff director of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation.

BGR’s filed statement mentions communication with Bryan Burack, formerly an Indo-Pacific foreign policy advisor for House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Tex.). Burack had previously worked under Strupp during his tenure as a staff associate for the Subcommittee on Asia.

In the June 2023 supplemental statement, BGR revealed that Strupp provided advice and monitored Congress’s appropriations process and the National Defense Authorization Act on behalf of the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Concerning lobbying efforts for the Azerbaijan Embassy, BGR detailed its interactions with lawmakers and aides, aiming to oppose anti-Azerbaijan amendments to the NDAA. BGR Principal Mark Tavlarides played a significant role in these interactions, primarily through email correspondence. The emails addressed a longstanding conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Recipients of these emails included Representative Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who, at the time, faced charges of illegally acting as a foreign agent. In March 2023, Menendez’s campaign committee received $2,100 in political contributions from BGR employees before the firm contacted him on behalf of Azerbaijan in May.

Both Menendez and Costa introduced amendments to the Senate and House versions of the NDAA, seeking an investigation into Azerbaijani human rights violations and a prohibition on weapons exports to the country. Costa pointed to Azerbaijan’s blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority-Armenian enclave that separated from Azerbaijan in the 1990s. In September 2023, Azerbaijan took control of the region, resulting in the displacement of a significant portion of the Armenian population.