As a candidate, President Donald Trump made cracking down on political insiders lobbying for foreign governments a central plank in his pledge to “drain the swamp.” But that promise hasn’t stopped people who helped get him elected from seeking lucrative lobbying contracts with foreign clients.
A prototypical example is the Sonoran Policy Group (SPG), a lobbying firm employing former Trump campaign staffers that recently registered to represent its second foreign government since President Trump was elected. The firm now represents both the New Zealand embassy and president of the Czech Republic.
Working on both accounts is Stuart Jolly, who worked on the Trump campaign from October 2015 to April 2016 before serving as the national political director of Great America PAC, a pro-Trump super PAC. Jolly told Politico that SPG had talked to around 15 countries since he joined.
Jolly joined SPG in December 2016, the same month the firm first registered to represent New Zealand under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Jolly himself registered to engage in “private sector diplomacy” for New Zealand on January 19, 2017, but he started helping the country’s government before then.
On January 17, for instance, Jolly appeared at the $80,000 New Zealand Embassy Inauguration Gala co-hosted by SPG and also attended by Trump White House staffers Stephen Bannon, Rick Dearborn, and Christopher Liddell, a New Zealand native. At the party, according to Washingtonian’s Elaina Plott, New Zealand Ambassador to the United States Tim Groser “regaled the crowd with the story of how he first snagged Trump’s cell phone number (he knew a guy who knew a guy).” The New Zealand Herald revealed the “guy” to be SPG chairman Robert Stryk, who knew Jolly:
“Stuart is really one of the geniuses and brains behind this great human experiment that Donald Trump did,” says Stryk, who was the connection the embassy turned to after then-Prime Minister John Key missed a call from the President-elect.“I text Stuart Jolly and say we need to get Mr. Trump to talk to the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Within 30 minutes this man got us the private cellphone of Mr. Trump,” says Stryk.“I walk into the Ambassador’s residence, I said ‘Ambassador, you don’t know me – you have 15 minutes or this phone number will change.’ He makes a call. It happens.”
The missed connection and ultimately successful phone call took place on November 16, 2016, a month before SPG filed with the FARA Registration Unit to take the New Zealand embassy on as a client, and two months before Jolly filed as a lobbyist working with SPG representing them.
The FARA Registration Unit ultimately received Jolly’s registration form on January 25, two days after the Associated Press reported that he had “already helped connect [SPG]’s clients, including the New Zealand embassy, with [the] new administration.”
Trump-connected staffers joining Jolly at SPG are Jacob Daniels, who helped run the Trump campaign in Michigan and was working at SPG by November 2016, and Robin Townley, who worked in the Trump White House on the National Security Council until being denied a security clearance. Daniels is registered to lobby for both New Zealand and the Czech Republic while Townley has yet to register to lobby for any clients, foreign or domestic.
Stryk, SPG’s owner, has his own ties to Trump world. In June 2016, Politico reported that Stryk was representing former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as he shopped around a book proposal about the campaign, a sales effort that reportedly started while Lewandowski was still working for the Trump campaign. Lewandowski has his own lobbying firm now, Avenue Strategies, that is seeking to represent foreign clients, despite an early pledge from Lewandowski’s partner, former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett, that the company would not work for foreign governments.
Jolly, who still lists himself as the national political director of a pro-Trump super PAC, told Politico recently that he’s “not abusing” his relationships from the campaign. New Zealand Ambassador Groser, however, made clear that the firm’s Trump connections were important. “Through their networking with the Trump people, they’ve been able to help us get in front of the queue,” Ambassador Groser told Politico. “They’re deeply and closely associated with the Trump election campaign,” he added. “We’ve been able to work extremely productively with them.”
Now SPG is ready to help Czech Republic President Milos Zeman “facilitate a successful and productive state visit.” The firm’s roster of former Trump campaign staffers, and their contacts in the Trump administration, will undoubtedly be a valuable asset. #DrainTheSwamp