In an effort to influence president Donald Trump, the state of Qatar quadrupled its lobbying spending in the United States over the past year.
Qatar spent US$16.3 million (Dh60m) on lobbying in 2017, almost four times the $4.2 million it spent in 2016. It also employed 23 lobbying firms, up from seven in 2016, according to federal filings reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.
The Gulf state sought to woo friends, academics and media figures close to the president in order to influence US policy.
In an unconventional twist, Qatar — which was boycotted by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain in June 2017 — gathered a list of 250 Trump influencers whom it wanted to help change US policy, the newspaper said.
The list was prepared by New York restaurateur Joey Allaham and his lobbying partner, former aide to senator Ted Cruz, Nick Muzin, who earned at least $3 million for their services. Their list included pro-Israeli academic Alan Dershowitz, as well as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (father of White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders), New York developer Steve Witkoff and radio host John Batchelor.
Both Mr Dershowitz and Mr Huckabee travelled to Qatar after the boycott, and the former governor was paid $50,000 for the visit. Mr Batchelor was on the list because Mr Trump listened to his show.
Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media was also approached. Following his introduction to the Qataris by Mr Allaham, “they began negotiating a multimillion-dollar stake in Newsmax.” But the talks broke down after Politico published an article revealing the talks last May.
Following his visit, Mr Huckabee tweeted that Doha was “beautiful and hospitable” without revealing the payment:
According to Mr Allaham and Mr Muzin’s lobbying firms, “the Qataris implored their guests to spread the word about what they saw as Qatar’s good works, including its aid to rebuild Gaza”. The Trump administration has recently intensified its meetings with Qatari officials on Gaza:
But some of the people on the list, including Mr Dershowitz, said "they feel duped because they hadn't known the trips were part of a state-lobbying effort", according to the Journal report on Wednesday.
Adding to the controversy, Mr Allaham carried out most of his work without registering as a foreign agent until June, the paper said, but the two have since stopped working for Qatar.