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INFLUENCE GAME: Romney advisers' interests emerge

By Stephen Braun
Associated Press / October 14, 2011

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WASHINGTON—Some foreign policy experts who joined Mitt Romney's campaign have lobbying and business backgrounds that could shape the advice they give to the Republican presidential candidate. Their interests include lobbying against cuts in U.S. aid to Pakistan and ties to defense companies with government contracts for cybersecurity, Navy shipbuilding and ballistic missile interceptors -- all issues that Romney has cited in recent speeches.

One adviser works for a German bank that has promoted cap-and-trade programs to reduce pollution, which Romney said he now opposes.

Former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber, named last week as a special adviser to Romney on foreign policy, lobbied this year for the Council on Pakistan Relations, a U.S.-based support group trying to stave off reduced economic aid to Pakistan in the wake of eroding diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Weber said he would have no problem distinguishing his campaign role from his job as managing partner of the Clark & Weinstock lobbying firm, which was paid $50,000 so far this year by the Pakistani-American group. The campaign said it would rely on Romney's judgment in scrutinizing policy advice.

Ethics experts said such assurances are inadequate to prevent private interests from influencing critical policy decisions made in the crush of presidential race or later inside the White House. Romney's aides disclosed the names of his new foreign policy advisers and brief profiles. But the campaign did not offer detailed dossiers on their lobbying and business ties that could be affected by Romney's stances.

"The public deserves to know exactly what the nature of these relationships is," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Krumholz said campaigns should provide comprehensive disclosure of advisers' backgrounds even as they tout their expertise. "They need to make it clear where their people are coming from."

Weber was overall policy chairman for Romney's 2007 presidential run and is expected to play a key policy role again this year. A GOP presidential campaign veteran who has mixed his post-Congress lobbying career with senior positions in the presidential campaigns of John McCain, George W. Bush and Bob Dole, Weber said his past expertise allows him to navigate any potential conflicts.

"I've been in this position for every (GOP presidential) campaign since 1996 and I'm not aware it ever created a problem," he said.

The Romney campaign said it has no concerns about its foreign policy team. "Mitt Romney has assembled a diverse group of highly respected foreign policy thinkers," said campaign spokesman Andrea Saul. "He fields their opinions, evaluates them and ultimately makes his own decisions on policy."

Last week, the former Massachusetts governor criticized Pakistan for what he described as playing "both sides of this game" in its relationship with the U.S. -- confronting insurgents inside its borders in some cases, but not in others. Weber said he had "never discussed Pakistan with (Romney) or anyone else on the team." Weber said he formerly backed Tim Pawlenty and noted that "Gov. Romney's positions were already well developed before I got involved."

The Council on Pakistan Relations bills itself as "a lobbying and advocacy organization whose mission is to impact U.S. policy towards Pakistan." Run and funded by Pakistani-Americans, the group says it is not affiliated with any domestic or international governments. The group's executive director did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The group has often advocated in Congress for positions and funding requests pressed by Pakistan's government. When Pakistani officials complained about congressional threats to slash aid following the U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden, the council echoed that pressure. On July 21, the group complained about cuts in foreign aid proposed by Congress.

Weber's lobbying firm also recently represented two major defense firms -- General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin -- that have pursued contracts for a proposed ballistic missile system. In Romney's major foreign policy speech last week at The Citadel, the candidate pledged to "prioritize the full deployment of a multilayered national ballistic missile defense system."

Weber said his lobbying firm no longer works for the two defense firms, and he said he did not personally lobby for them.

General Dynamics has also been represented by Stephen Rademaker, a former Bush administration official and lobbyist who was named a co-chairman of a Romney working group on counterproliferation. Rademaker was a senior arms control official in the Bush State Department and has urged a tough stance on Iran.

Rademaker, who currently lobbies for the Podesta group, previously worked for the BGR Group, where he represented the embassies of Poland and Kazakhstan and the regional government of Kurdistan. He also lobbied for Raytheon, another major defense contractor involved in ballistic missile defense. Rademaker did not return a telephone request for comment.

John Lehman, who was Navy secretary during the Reagan administration, was named a Romney special adviser and co-chair of a working group on defense. Lehman is chairman of the J.F. Lehman & Co. private equity firm, which owns several defense contracting companies. One is U.S. Joiner LLC, a ship interior outfitter awarded $5.2 million in defense contracts in 2010.

In his foreign policy speech last week, Romney committed to increase the shipbuilding rate from nine per year to 15. A spokesman for J.F. Lehman did not provide comment.

Former top CIA official Cofer Black is also a Romney special adviser. Black is Vice President for Global Operations at Blackbird Technologies, a defense contractor specializing in electronic tracking, communications and cybersecurity. The firm won $87 million in defense contracts in 2010, much of it with sensitive military units such as the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Romney has pledged a "unified national strategy" on cybersecurity. He added that "defense and intelligence resources must be fully engaged" but did not explicitly call for more spending. Black did not return a call to his office.

Another Romney foreign policy adviser, Christopher Burnham, is vice chairman of Deutsche Asset Management, which until recently directed a major division with investments in institutional climate change, DB Climate Change Advisors. Burnham had also been global co-head of the climate change investment group since 2009 but has stepped down, a Deutsche Bank spokesman said.

The German banking firm identifies investment opportunities in projects aimed at stemming global warming. During Burnham's tenure at the climate change group, it released annual reports on investing in climate change -- though the spokesman said Burnham did not oversee the reports. A 2010 report appeared to promote the use of market-based cap-and-trade systems aimed at curbing pollution by making it more expensive to produce power with fossil fuels like petroleum and coal. "The big challenge for 2010 is the U.S. cap and trade legislation that presently is in discussion in the Senate," the report said. "There is still hope this can be passed."

The bill died in the Senate. Burnham's role in the climate change investment group could pose problems for Romney, who has been regularly attacked by presidential rivals on the issue of global warming. "Inside the party, it absolutely makes it harder for him," said Mike McKenna, a Virginia-based political strategist who has lobbied on energy issues but said he is neutral so far in the race.

While Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other GOP contenders are skeptical about climate change, Romney has publicly said he agrees with overwhelming scientific evidence that humans cause global warming and that emissions from burning fossil fuels should be reduced. Romney once supported cap and trade as Massachusetts governor, but he no longer publicly backs the idea.