OTTAWA—When it comes
to rubbing shoulders with movers and shakers in the halls of power in
the United States, few governments are better represented than that of a
place many Americans have never heard of — Saskatchewan.
Since 2009, Premier
Brad Wall’s government and Saskatchewan agencies have paid more than $3
million to a U.S. law firm to fund an ambitious lobbying onslaught in
Washington, D.C., on the long-stalled Keystone pipeline proposal and
other energy and trade issues.
The law firm Nelson
Mullins Riley & Scarborough has helped the premier work the halls of
Congress, hobnob with the cream of U.S. policy-makers and introduce
himself to the American media-government establishment. In some cases,
members of the U.S. Congress who met with Wall received political
contributions from Nelson Mullins before or after their contact with the
premier, according to U.S. government documents.
Public records filed
under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act sketch the lobbying
campaign. In April 2009, the law firm reported: “Outreach to CNN
producer Michelle Jaconi suggesting she keep on file the biography of
Premier Brad Wall and consider him for guest booking for CNN shows” on
climate change and trade issues.
A key member of the Nelson Mullins team is David Wilkins, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada.
In May 2009, staffers
at Nelson Mullins were busy with “outreach to (U.S.) Western Governors’
Association to promote Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall for speaking
opportunity at Western Governors’ Association meeting in Utah.”
A month later, the law
firm reported it had contacted several major U.S. newspapers to
disseminate an opinion piece co-written by Wall and Montana Gov. Brian
Schweitzer on a joint carbon-capture-and-storage project.
Since then, Nelson
Mullins’ efforts to advance Saskatchewan’s interests have covered a wide
range of activities: Obtaining media coverage for Wall on his visits to
China and India as well as the U.S., arranging speaking engagements in
the U.S. for the premier and helping him pressure U.S. President Barack
Obama to approve Keystone. The latter strategy included a letter signed
by Wall and the governors of 10 U.S. states urging Obama to give
Keystone the go-ahead.
While the Keystone pipeline
would carry oilsands-derived crude to the U.S. from Alberta,
Saskatchewan also stands to benefit if the project goes ahead. Petroleum
producers in Saskatchewan are losing $2.5 billion annually because of
depressed prices resulting from a North American oil surplus, Wall’s
office says. This costs the provincial government $300 million a year in
lost revenues. Opening a new export pipeline would push up prices for
oil producers in Saskatchewan and other provinces.
Wall has always been
open about his province’s lobbying contract with Nelson Mullins and
believes Wilkins and others there have performed well on Saskatchewan’s
behalf, a government spokesperson said.
In the past five
years, the law firm has used its connections to throw open the doors of
some of Washington’s most sought-after lawmakers and White House
officials for Wall and other Saskatchewan cabinet ministers.
And U.S. Department of
Justice documents show lawmakers who met with Wall were in some cases
the beneficiaries of political contributions by Nelson Mullins.
There is no indication
any of the money donated to members of Congress lobbied by Nelson
Mullins came from the Saskatchewan government. The law firm was working
for other clients while it worked for Wall. Nelson Mullins regularly
makes political contributions to dozens of lawmakers in the U.S. and
such political contributions are legal under U.S. election financing
repeated requests for interviews about his relationship with the premier
and the Saskatchewan government. However, he has said in the past, in
relation to political contributions to a member of Congress, that he has
never expected any recipient of a political contribution to take any
particular action in response. U.S. lawmakers contacted by the Star also
did not return the Star’s requests for comments.
Nelson Mullins was
particularly active on behalf of Wall when he visited Washington in the
first week of March. At that time, there was a peak in the high-stakes
struggle in Washington over Keystone. With Obama’s long-awaited
yes-or-no decision on the $7-billion pipeline thought to be imminent,
Wall made another of his regular visits to the U.S. capital and as usual
turned to Wilkins to set up his lobbying contacts.
Nelson Mullins arranged for Wall to meet 10 members of Congress to discuss Keystone, according to records collected under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Among those with whom
Wall met to talk about the controversial pipeline project was John
Boehner, the powerful Republican speaker of the House of
Representatives. A smiling Wall posed for a photograph with Boehner and
Wilkins that subsequently ran in a Nelson Mullins newsletter. The
following Monday after the Wall-Boehner meeting, Wilkins’ law firm
provided Boehner with a $2,000 political donation, according to the U.S.
Boehner, a longtime
supporter of Keystone, had presided over several House votes meant to
pressure Obama to approve the pipeline’s construction. And in April when
Obama again postponed
a final yes-or-no ruling on Keystone, Boehner labelled the move
“shameful” and vowed to keep pressing the administration to “move
forward” on a decision.
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