Washington Babylon — July 15, 2008, 8:37 am

Lobbyist-arranged Op-eds?

Following up on that Sunday Times of London story about its sting on lobbyist Stephen Payne, regarding the former administration official caught seeking to sell access to the White House, The Times posted a confidential brochure prepared by Payne’s firm, Worldwide Strategic Partners, which detailed its alleged prior activities on behalf of the government of Azerbaijan.

The brochure said the firm worked closely with a number of people to “boost positive U.S . public perception about Azerbaijan,” including: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; A. Elizabeth Jones, a former State Department official and now a lobbyist at APCO Associates; and Gary Bauer, the Christian right leader. The brochure said the three had written friendly op-eds on behalf of Azerbaijan. Here are what may be the three (or at least three of) the op-eds the brochure referred to:

June 11, 2005, op-ed by Kay Bailey Hutchinson

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wrought an enormous amount of human suffering. The destructive storms also demonstrated the need for the US to identify new sources of energy… One nation holds great promise. Azerbaijan, located between Russia and Iran, sits atop major proven oil reserves on the coast of the Caspian Sea.

September 13, 2005, op-ed by Gary Bauer:

Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic located directly between Russia and Iran, has worked for a decade to align itself with the U.S. and Europe through a continuing process of democratization and economic engagement. Azerbaijan has also been a firm supporter of the U.S.-led war on terror, signing every one of the international counter-terrorism conventions and protocols tracked by the U.S. State Department.

November 2, 2005, Elizabeth Jones:

Azerbaijan, a nation with a Turkic and majority-Muslim population that regained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has parliamentary elections scheduled Nov. 6. President Ilham Aliyev has worked hard to avoid the missteps of the election in 2003 and correct the problems that election observers catalogued then. His stated goal is assuring an environment during the election campaign, culminating on the day of the vote, which can be fairly judged to have promoted a free and fair election. Steps taken by his government to date are encouraging.

All terribly upbeat op-eds about a government still best known for rigging elections and massive corruption. But arranging these sorts of opinion pieces, as I disclosed in my undercover story for Harper’s last year, is all in a day’s work for Washington lobbyists. APCO, one of the firms I met with, told me it had one person on staff who did nothing but plant opinion pieces, and had succeeded in placing thousands of them.

By the way, my book based on the lobbying story, “Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship” will be published on September 23 and promoted here without relent between now and then.

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