March 20, 2017
A number of top Democratic lobbyist bundlers, who together pulled in millions of dollars for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and donated generously to Democratic leaders, personally represent or work at firms that have represented Russian interests in recent years, according to a review of foreign agent registration filings.
Several powerful lobbyists who have pushed millions of dollars into Democratic coffers have ties to foreign banks and governments.
Emanuel "Mike" Manatos, the senior vice president of Manatos & Manatos, a D.C.-based government relations firm, bundled tens of thousands for Clinton's campaign.
"Mike Manatos has orchestrated efforts that set numerous records in the policymaking process of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Executive Branch as he moved clients’ issues forward," the company's website states. "This record of success for clients’ issues has attracted some of the world’s and America’s leading individuals and organizations to ask Manatos & Manatos to oversee the handling of their issues in Washington, D.C."
One of those clients was the VTB Group, a Russian financial group that includes the VTB Bank—a large financial institution that is majority-owned by the Russian government.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires individuals who act as agents for foreign principals "in a political or quasi-political capacity" to provide periodic updates to the Justice Department on the work and services they perform. Foreign agents must submit receipts and disbursements in relation to the work they perform for foreign entities.
Manatos filed paperwork on May 11, 2016 to work on behalf of the VTB Group, a "global provider of financial services, comprised of over 20 financial institutions and financial companies operating across all key areas of the financial markets," the registration reads.
The Russian government is the majority shareholder of the VTB Group, controlling 60.9 percent of voting shares. The group received a $2.6 billion bailout from the Russian government in 2014-15, the registration notes.
Manatos was tapped by the group to lobby Congress and the Obama administration on sanctions imposed on Russian-affiliated banks.
According to a "privileged and confidential" document attached to the registration, the firm receives $17,500 per month and a $35,000 security retainer fee for its services.
Manatos bundled more than $40,000 in lobbyist contributions for Clinton's campaign. He and brother Andy Manatos, the second partner at the firm, have donated tens of thousands to Democratic politicians, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Tony Podesta, owner of the powerful D.C.-based Podesta Group lobbying shop, works on behalf of Sberbank CIB USA, Inc., a subsidiary of Russia's largest bank that is majority-owned by the government. Tony is the brother of John Podesta, the former chairman of Clinton's campaign.
A lobbying report filed with Congress showed that Sberbank paid Podesta $20,000 in the first quarter of 2016 to "clarify the scope of sanctions imposed by Executive Order 13660," signed by President Obama in March 2014 to block "property of certain persons contributing to the situation in Ukraine." Podesta also was hired to explore possible sanctions relief.
The Security Services of Ukraine accused Sberbank of transferring funds to pro-Russia "terrorists" fighting for Soviet occupation in April 2014, a charge the bank denied.
Podesta was paid $170,000 by Sberbank for his services throughout 2016, disclosure forms show. Podesta bundled at least $260,000 for Clinton's campaign and has given hundreds of thousands more to prominent Democratic lawmakers, PACs, and committees.
Capitol Counsel, another D.C.-based lobbying firm, submitted a proposal to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a $10 billion fund established by the Russian government, on Sep. 12, 2014 to represent the group in the United States. The letter was addressed to Kirill Dmitriev, the investment fund's chief executive officer.
"RDIF acts as co-investor or partner, always as a minority stakeholder, with leading international businesses and sovereign wealth funds. Co-investors perform joint due diligence with RDIF in evaluating opportunities and make independent investment decisions," the proposal states. "Recent press articles have significantly misstated the role and function of RDIF. To help address this concern, Capitol Counsel proposes to assist RDIF in correcting the press reports by working with US investors and the international investment community to educate the Administration and major policy makers as to the role of RDIF and its relationship with US business and investors."
Capitol Counsel proposed a monthly retainer of $45,000 for a minimum of two months as compensation.
The lobbying group submitted paperwork to FARA on October 31, 2014 to represent the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The group would "educate and explain to U.S. Department of Treasury and U.S. policy-makers RDIF's role and relationship with the United States partners and investors" and have communication with Treasury officials, policy-makers on Capitol Hill, and with Senate and House Committees of jurisdiction to "gather information regarding U.S. sanctions on Russian entities."
None of the lobbyists in this story returned requests for comment by press time.
Joe Schoffstall is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Previously, he spent three years with the Media Research Center and was most recently with the Capitol City Project. He can be reached at Schoffstall@freebeacon.com. His Twitter handle is @JoeSchoffstall.