Friday, August 22, 2008

Taiwan Supporter, McCain Advisor Under Fire

A solid Taiwan supporter - Randy Scheunemann - took a hit in the Huffington Post today. Yes, Randy was a public relations specialist, strategic communicator, lobbyist, or whatever one likes to call the business. And his previous company, Orion Strategies, registered under the Foreign Agent Registry Act (FARA) with Taiwan as a client. Randy's been hit in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Rightweb, and a range of other commentaries, journals, and dailies.

As election day nears, people supporting both the McCain and Obama teams are on the look out for any perceived weakness in the opposing camp. And then take any perceived weakness, and then access the media to cast the message in manner that best suits your interests. It's politics, and it gets nasty. Fact is that attacks against Randy are less about conflict of interest than about his position on the McCain campaign team, as well as his foreign policy positions as a hawk on national defense.

Lobbying is a form of marketing, specifically geared toward Congress. Yet, it's more than that. It's shaping a message in the media, writing letters officials in the Executive Branch, and such. The business seeks to win people over to the cause of whoever the lobbyists' clients are. Most lobbyists tend to match business clients with pre-existing views, causes, and passions. Success comes easier if a lobbyist shares the same passion as his client. In fact, that's probably how he/she got the contact - the client is willing to pay because he/she knows the lobbyist cares. So a lobbyist does well by doing good, at least as defined by the lobbyist and the client.

So...Randy was passionate about Taiwan. And then Orion was able to land a one year contract in 2005 for U.S. $200,000 a year. Randy had to back out of Orion when he signed up for the McCain campaign. The Orion contract was small potatoes, although not bad for a small and until recently low key company. It's the big names that get the big contracts. Level of retainer seems to be based on how senior of an official you were. If you were a Senator, Representative, Ambassador, Cabinet Secretary, or even a deputy Cabinet official, you'll get alot. If you were a measly staffer, don't expect alot.

At the same time as it contracted with Orion in March 2005, the DPP signed up Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers (BGR) in a sweet three year deal for $1.5 million ($500,000 a year). BGR, packed with former senior Republican National Committee and Bush administration officials, such as Haley Barbour, Bob Blackwell and Steve Yates. BGR's contract was terminated early though, in the wake of the departure of Steve Yates among others. The KMT/PFP office in Washington signed up O'Neill and Associates for $12,000 a month. McGuire Woods Consulting, another major lobbying firm, was able to land a contract for $25,000 a month, or $300,000 a year. Ford Associates signed up for just over $500,000 a year. These are just a partial list of contracts triggering a FARA registration.

So Orion was one of a number of lobbying firms, modest in light of other larger firms. Question, however, is cost effectiveness for Taiwan. Most of us like and defend Taiwan because we like the place, have wives or girlfriends from Taiwan, have a strong dislike of the Gomer government in Beijing, or some other emotional attachment to Taiwan, and write, advocate, or give advice without Taiwan authorities paying for it. But it does take hiring lobbyists to market for Taiwan in Washington, and Taiwan isn't alone. China has come on strong, and has a vast lobbying campaign that is outpacing Taiwan's. Few foreign governments don't have lobbyists in Washington.

Problem for Taiwan is that its management of lobbyists may have problems. Little coordination, direction, and perhaps wasting money on lobbying firms that do very little for the money. Because Orion Strategies is a small firm, managed by former staffers, odds are that it has been effective where it specializes - the Hill. But effectiveness of others isn't clear.

Bottom line - Randy's been taking hits for his lobbying business. Taiwan was a client. But Taiwan needs more like Randy to maintain its relevance, especially in the face of a growing Chinese effort to win over policymakers and Congressmen. More on this later...

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