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Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole has registered as a lobbyist on behalf of Wanhua Chemical (America) Co., Ltd., a Texas-based chemical company that is a subsidiary to its Chinese parent company Wanhua Chemical Group Co. Ltd.
Dole’s role in the lobbying was disclosed in a disclosure form filed by the law-firm Alston & Bird. The firm has reported it is being paid $150,000 to lobby on behalf of the Chinese company in the first quarter of 2020, on “Issues related to U.S. Trade Investment Policy.”
The form further disclosures, “To the extent that Wanhua Chemical (America) Co., Ltd. realizes any benefit from legislative or executive action, so, too, would its parent company, Wanhua Chemical Group Co. Ltd.”
Yantai Guofeng Investment Holdings Co., Ltd., a wholly Chinese state-owned entity, acts as the Wanhua Chemical Group’s largest shareholder, holding 21.59% of its shares, according to a translated Chinese government asset disclosure document. Yantai Guofeng Investment Holdings Co., Ltd. appears to be a business entity of the Yantain municipal government in the Chinese province of Shandong.
Dole, 96, is a former U.S. Senator and World War II veteran, having served with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. His name is perhaps among the most prominent of those listed in Alston & Bird’s disclosure form.
Alston & Bird’s disclosure form named several other of its members lobbying on behalf of the Chinese company including Bob Siggins, the chief of staff for former North Dakota Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy; and Jane Lucas, who previously served as special assistant to President Donald Trump for legislative affairs, among others.
Axios reported that Wanhua Chemical Group is the world’s leading manufacturer of Methylene Diphenyl Diisocyanate (MDI), a chemical used in insulating refrigerators and freezers. Axios noted the company had been affected by the U.S.-China Trade War. The company had seen plans to build a $1.25 billion chemical plant in Louisiana put on hold during the course of the trade fight.
While the trade war appeared to have been partly resolved after Trump and China signed a phase 1 trade agreement in January, there has been growing skepticism as to the future of U.S.-Chinese trade relations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump and other members of his administration have accused China of concealing information about the virus outbreak, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
White House trade advisor Peter Navarro recently said the Chinese government sought to “nationalize effectively 3M, our company,” by blocking it and Honeywell, another U.S.-owned multinational mask manufacturer with factories in China from exporting its masks and protective equipment products to the U.S. and other companies. The Chinese government reportedly denied U.S. companies the ability to sell their masks to other countries and instead only allowed them to sell their products within China, as the country hoarded medical supplies in the early days of the outbreak.
Axios also noted the firm Alston & Bird only filed their lobbying disclosure with the U.S. Senate database, and that no similar disclosure was filed in accordance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) database under the Department of Justice, which it reported has more stringent disclosure requirements. The apparent discrepancy in the lobbying requirements suggests U.S. companies owned by foreign entities may not be subject to the FARA lobbying disclosure requirements.
FARA has been a subject of debate for its reportedly vague requirements and uneven enforcement. AUX Initiatives LLC, a DC-based government affairs consulting firm that also worked on behalf of Wanhua Chemical Group, filed a FARA registration as a precaution.
Retired Gen. Michael Flynn was also debated as the subject of a potential FARA violation. Department of Justice prosecutors debated whether or not to name Flynn as a co-conspirator in a FARA case in the summer of 2019, before a judge eventually ruled against naming Flynn as such.