International tensions present problems and opportunities for U.S. lobbyists and lawyers.
Patton Boggs has occupied the U.S.-China relations minefield since 2005, when the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China hired the firm to help strategize congressional relations.
Filings with the Justice Department show that China paid Patton Boggs more than $307,000 in the last four months of 2011.
So far, the firm has played no public role in intergovernmental discussions concerning activist Chen Guangcheng, who made his way to the U.S. embassy in Beijing after escaping house arrest in Shandong province on April 22.
A Patton Boggs spokesman declined comment when asked about any possible involvement in the controversy.
Certainly, the political storm caused by Chen’s escape and subsequent dealings with U.S. officials won’t make the firm’s job in Washington any easier.
Recent activities on other issues of concern to the Chinese government have been substantial. Patton Boggs reported more than 20 contacts with congressional staff during the second half of last year.
Of particular concern during that period was the Senate’s passage in October of the “Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011,” designed to punish China with tariffs if it continued to keep its exchange rate artificially low.
“American exporters already pay a tariff – to the tune of 25 to 40 percent—because of Chinese currency manipulation,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), sponsor, said after the measure cleared the Senate by a vote of 63-35.
Chinese officials were outraged.
“This bill seriously violates World Trade Organization rules, harms bilateral economic and trade cooperation, and does not solve the economic and employment problems in the United States,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told CNN.
A total 68 organizations, including the US-China Business Council and major manufacturers such as United States Steel, Boeing and Honeywell, registered as lobbying the bill.
Patton Boggs also counseled China last year on issues such as:
- Trade issues in H.Res. 425
- Potential U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the “Taiwan Airpower Modernization Act of 2011” (H.R. 2992 / S. 1539) and related amendments (S. Amdt. 634 to H.R. 2832 and S. Amdt. 1200 to S. 1867).
The firm also advocated for meetings between the Chinese ambassador and congressional leaders.
According to a letter filed with Justice in 2010, the team handling affairs for China is led by partner Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., son of former Reps. Lindy and Hal Boggs.
Working with Boggs were partners Robert Kapla and Timothy Chorba, who was U.S. ambassador to Singapore from 1994 to 1997.
Patton Boggs is the biggest lobbying firm in Washington, with revenues last year exceeding $47 million.
Its registered lobbyists include former Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), who is a member of the First Street 30.
The firm is also a big donor to federal candidates. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the firm’s PAC contributed $452,900 in the 2010 cycle. Of that, 63 percent went to Democrats and 36 percent to Republicans.
Spending in the current cycle already totals more than $295,000.
China isn’t the firm’s only foreign client. Patton Boggs is also a registered agent for:
- Transitional National Council of Libya
- Saudi Arabia
- Sri Lanka