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Saudi lobbyist and ex-US senator oversees millions in Republican campaign donations

Former Senator Norm Coleman plays dual role of Saudi lobbyist and chair of GOP super PAC
Coleman, who served as a US senator for Minnesota from 2003 to 2009, is a registered lobbyist for Saudi Arabia.
Coleman, who served as a US senator for Minnesota from 2003 to 2009, is a registered lobbyist for Saudi Arabia (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman has been the chair of a Republican super PAC with ties to a dark-money group that promoted positive messaging about Saudi Arabia, while at the same time working as a lobbyist for Riyadh.

Filings submitted to the Justice Department, revealed by The Intercept, detail a $175,000 per month contract that Coleman's law firm, Hogan Lovells, had with the government of Saudi Arabia.

Coleman is a registered lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, and the contract is a part of the Saudi government's robust lobbying operation that saw the kingdom spend $21m last year to gain influence in Washington, according to public filings.

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The former senator also continues to hold a position of influence in the Republican party, as the founder of the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC. He serves as the chair of the CLF.

Coleman is also the chair of the American Action Network, a tax-exempt "social welfare group", which is an IRS designation that allows political advocacy and requires no disclosure of funding. Groups such as this are commonly referred to as dark-money groups.

The CLF and AAN have close financial ties, with the latter funnelling $94m in dark money to the CLF since 2011, where it goes on to be used for adverts and other campaign support for Republican candidates.

While Coleman lobbied for Saudi Arabia, AAN produced favourable messaging about Saudi Arabia, according to The Intercept.

A 2015 blog post on AAN's website shows Coleman promoting Saudi Arabia as a model of "moderate Islam" and an enemy of the Islamic State (IS) group.

A post one year later on the website of the AAN's related American Action Forum - where Coleman is listed as "of counsel" - praised economic reforms proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A number of congressional Republicans were assisted in their elections by CLF and subsequently were lobbied directly by Coleman on behalf of Saudi Arabia, according to the investigative news site.

There is no evidence that Saudi money was directly funnelled through AAN and CLF into advertising supporting Republican candidates.

However, Anna Massoglia, editorial and investigations manager at OpenSecrets, a non-profit organisation that tracks money in politics, told The Intercept that the "fact you have a foreign agent for Saudi Arabia involved in groups influencing US elections is just a step removed from those more direct roles that are explicitly barred".

An AAN spokesperson told The Intercept that it had never solicited foreign funds.

Coleman and his law firm, Hogan Lovells, are explicit about their role in helping to generate congressional support for Saudi Arabia's interests, where they engage in "specific advocacy assignments with regard to US Government officials, Members of Congress and their staffs... and/or in other activities of interest to the foreign principal", according to a March disclosure to the Justice Department.

Middle East Eye reached out to Coleman for comment, but he did not respond by time of publication.