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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 

Saskatchewan Taxpayers Cough Up Millions To Open Doors For Premier Brad Wall With American Republican Lawmakers

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 rules.

Wilkins declined 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. records.

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.
...Star article continues ....

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