Ivanishvili's Washington Lobbying Starts Paying Off
Georgian opposition politician Bidzina Ivanishvili is paying tens of thousands of dollars a month to Washington lobbyists, and it looks like it's already paying off. On Monday, Jim McDermott, a Democratic congressman from Washington state, introduced the "Republic of Georgia Democracy Act of 2012," which would require the U.S. to cut off all aid (military and otherwise) to Georgia unless the Secretary of State can certify that parliamentary elections scheduled in October are carried out in a free, fair and competitive manner. That fits with a recent rhetorical push by U.S. officials to impress upon Georgia's government the extent to which Washington is watching the conduct of its elections. The penalty may seem a bit harsh, though: when was the last time Bahrain -- to pick another prominent U.S. military aid recipient -- had a free election?
But what's most striking about the bill is its emphasis on Ivanishvili. The bill mentions the billionaire businessman no fewer than 13 times in its nine pages, without mentioning any other politician (other than President MIkheil Saakashvili, referring to his "increasingly dictatorial control over Georgia's government" and several times to the "Saakashvili regime"). It details the revocation of Ivanishvili's citizenship, the financial harassment of Ivanishvili and the suspicious death of an Ivanishvili supporter while in jail. Unsurprisingly, the bill's text was sent to The Bug Pit by a PR firm working for Ivanishvili. (The bill, introduced only Monday, does not appear to be online yet, I'll update with a link when it is.)
Granted, Ivanishvili is going up against a much stronger Washington lobbying operation by the Georgian government. Just two months ago, a Congressional resolution praised Georgia's government, saying it "demonstrated its overall commitment to democratic and economic reforms." And a pair of bills have just been introduced in Congress pushing for Georgian membership in NATO, Saakashvili's top priority. With more than a year to go until Georgia's presidential elections, it looks like the campaign trail will include a stop at Capitol Hill.
UPDATE: The text of the bill is online here.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.