Pinellas Republican congressional candidate David Jolly’s lobbyist past was always going to be a favorite target for his opponents. In the GOP primary, Kathleen Peters tried the "lobbyist" attack, attempting to tie Jolly to Obamacare in a claim we rated False. (We’ve done some other checks on his lobbying, too.) But Peters’ loss to Jolly hasn’t stopped Democrats from trying to rap Jolly as a lobbyist ahead of the general election.
A new commercial released Jan. 21 by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee focused not on a subject that Jolly himself worked on, but rather on a client represented by his former employer.
The ad refers to a quote from Jolly saying "I’m proud of the work that I’ve done." It then asks a hypothetical: "Is Jolly proud of lobbying for special interests that received over $3,000,000 in taxpayer-funded earmarks? Or the firm lobbying for hundreds of millions for a dictator in Pakistan as we face record debt?" These charges are paired with images of Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan.
One of those claims gave us pause: Did one of Jolly’s firms really have anything to do with "a dictator in Pakistan"?
For the answer, we need to head to K Street.
Did Pakistan retain Jolly’s firm?
Jolly served as an aide to the late U.S. House Rep. C.W. Bill Young for almost 20 years before leaving his office to work for lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates Inc. on Jan. 1, 2007. He worked for Van Scoyoc until the end of 2010, then formed his own firm, Three Bridges Advisors.
We are confident that Jolly didn’t ever lobby for anyone in Pakistan. His office denies it, his records confirm it and the DCCC doesn’t claim it. But the DCCC’s claim is carefully worded, implicating Jolly’s firm -- not Jolly personally.
And there is plenty of evidence that Van Scoyoc did lobbying work for Pakistan. Van Scoyoc was one of several lobbying firms retained by Pakistan’s government between 2005 and 2008 to lobby for the country’s interests, particularly foreign aid. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan was viewed as a vital ally in the search for Osama bin Laden and the subsequent war in Afghanistan, making Musharraf an important strategic partner.
DCCC national press secretary Joshua Schwerin said the commercial specifically refers to two appropriations that benefited Pakistan -- the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, setting aside millions to train and equip Pakistani armed forces, including the Pakistan Frontier Corps to fight militant Islamic groups; and fiscal year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act’s Foreign Military Financing Program, to supply the South Asian country’s army, air force and navy.
Van Scoyoc confirmed it was employed by the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to discuss defense and economic issues, including the bills the DCCC references. The firm added that dollar amounts attached to those bills weren’t listed in filings, because the filings focus on discussions rather than outcomes.
A Foreign Agents Registration Act form listing lobbying activities shows Van Scoyoc engaged in dozens of meetings with members of Congress and congressional staffers, the Department of Defense and media outlets between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2007. Those meetings would have been supportive of the strategic partnership with Musharraf, who was in power until August 2008.
Both the NDAA and the appropriations bill were listed as lobbying subjects on the disclosure form. The form also confirms that Pakistan had terminated its relationship with the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates and hired Ogilvy Public Relations during the same time frame.
Records show that the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act ended up paying out $131 million, including $75 million for the Pakistan Frontier Corps. The Pakistani military eventually used $298 million from the Foreign Military Financing Program that year. And that’s just the totals for 2008. Washington continued funding the program at similar levels. (The Pakistan Frontier Corps funding was cut back to $25 million in 2009 and dropped after that.)
For its services, Van Scoyoc received between $30,000 to as much as $55,000 a month from Pakistan’s government.
The more than $1 billion in total economic and military aid Pakistan received in 2008 is not unusually high for a U.S. ally in a troubled but strategically important region, especially with a war right next door in Afghanistan.
That number also doesn’t include more than $1 billion per year the country got through the Pentagon’s Coalition Support Funds, which technically reimburse the nation for allowing American armed forces and their allies to use air bases and similar facilities. Egypt received about $1.5 billion that same year. Israel took in almost $2.4 billion. In all, foreign aid accounted for about 1.6 percent of the total U.S. budget that year.
Despite the country’s strategic importance, continued aid to Pakistan has drawn some criticism within the United States -- even before it became known that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. And when the United States learned of his location, President Barack Obama took action without informing Pakistan first, for fear that elements within the Pakistani government or military might tip off the al Qaeda chief, who had managed to live undeterred in Pakistan for a decade.
"In the early years post-9/11, Pakistan’s involvement was essential," said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. "By 2007, there was frustration with Musharraf’s actions … At the very least, he was minimally satisfying needs for the U.S., to put it charitably."
Was Musharraf a dictator?
Is it fair to call Musharraf, whose name was not specifically mentioned in the ad, a dictator? It depends whom you ask.
In 2007, Congressional Quarterly Weekly quoted Brookings Institution fellow Bruce Riedel, a former Bill Clinton adviser on Near East and South Asian affairs and 30-year CIA veteran, saying that Van Scoyoc was doing a good job "selling what is essentially a military dictatorship."
Musharraf, a general, was Chief of Army Staff in 1999 when he led a bloodless coup ousting a civilian (albeit ineffectual, to many observers) government led by Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf re-instituted military rule in the country, and his tenure was marked by constitutional disputes, protests, economic hardship, territorial battles, and tensions between Islamist militant and secular factions in the government.
Musharraf eventually gave up his Army position in 2007 and resigned after he lost support in 2008 parliamentary elections and faced impeachment. He went into exile in November 2008, only to return last year ahead of May elections. He was arrested, facing a host of charges, including suspicion of conspiring to murder political rivals, and was placed under house arrest. He has been released, but he is barred from leaving the country.
Now he’s on trial for treason (largely at the behest of Sharif, who was re-elected last year) for such actions as detaining judges, suspending the constitution and imposing emergency rule in November 2007. Musharraf is currently attempting to leave the country to seek medical attention for a heart problem, but many consider this a ruse to escape trial.
When we asked Riedel whether he thought the DCCC’s description of Musharraf was fair, he said it was.
"Musharraf is without question a former dictator," he told PolitiFact Florida. "He took power in a military coup, ruled as a military dictator and was overthrown by the judiciary and popular demonstrations. He is now ... on trial for his abuses of power in Pakistan. He double-dealt the U.S. in power, promising help against al-Qaida while he supported the Afghan Taliban to kill our troops in Afghanistan."
Not everybody is on board with this assessment, however.
Khurram Husain, a Karachi-based journalist who is currently at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said the term isn’t so cut-and-dried.
"I think anyone who seizes power through force, then changes the rules of the game to legitimize his coup, then allows an elected parliament to come into being but retains the power to dissolve that parliament or even individual members of the parliament can be called a dictator," Husain said. He added that he calls him a dictator in his own writing.
Still, Husain added that during Musharraf’s time, executive power was in the hands of a civilian prime minister, elected by a parliament full of directly elected representatives. That’s different than the way dictators in parts of Africa and the Middle East have ruled, he said.
Some say Musharraf "couldn’t really dictate anything and had to work to build some modicum of consensus before getting his way, and often found the Supreme Court struck down his government’s policies and actions and therefore cannot be called a dictator," Husain said.
The DCCC’s commercial charges that Jolly’s former firm lobbied "for hundreds of millions (of dollars) for a dictator in Pakistan."
The ad uses guilt by association, leveraging a widespread American distaste for dictators in general -- and uneasiness with the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in particular -- in a quest to damage Jolly, who, in reality, was close to neither.
On the other hand, the ad phrases its allegation carefully. It doesn’t claim that Jolly himself lobbied for Pakistan, but rather that his former employer, Van Scoyoc Associates Inc., did. And on that point, the ad is correct. So too, experts say, is the ad’s description of Musharraf as a dictator.
This ad treads close to the line, implying Jolly’s firm did something unethical when, so far as we know, it acted lawfully and as other lobbying firms regularly do. The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.