US Senator Takes $500k a Year Cambodian Lobbying Gig

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen has registered as a foreign agent in order to consult and lobby for the country of Cambodia.

Under documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Ericksen signed an agreement between PacRim Bridges LLC — a company he formed in 2017 — and the Kingdom of Cambodia on March 25.

Under the contract, first reported by Politico, PacRim will receive $500,000 a year to provide consulting services and to “work to support legislation that is positive for Cambodia.” Among the services offered by PacRim will be arranging for cultural exchanges and visits by Cambodian delegations.

Ericksen is CEO of PacRim, and former Republican Rep. Jay Rodne serves as general counsel and chief legal officer.

Ericksen said Friday that while he didn’t think he was required to file with the federal government, he did so because “I wanted to make sure everything was transparent and clear.”

He said that while the contract includes language on supporting legislation beneficial to Cambodia as part of the work, his work will focus more on improving the image of a country that he sees as an emerging economy. “Our goal is to advise and consult with the people of Cambodia to improve relations with the United States,” Ericksen said.

Because the Washington Legislature does not run year-round, many lawmakers hold outside employment. Administrators in the House and Senate were not aware of any other lawmakers who have registered as a foreign agent while serving in the Legislature. According to Jennifer Strus, attorney for the Legislative Ethics Board, nothing in the state Ethics in Public Service Act prohibits it.

“As with any member with outside employment, he may not lobby the Washington state legislature on behalf of his employer,” Strus wrote in an email.

Ericksen was elected to his third term in the Senate in November, winning by just 46 votes. He previously served six terms in the House. In 2017, he temporarily served as communications director for the Environmental Protection Agency transition team following President Donald Trump’s election.

He had received criticism for previous trips to Cambodia, including one to observe the country’s July 29 elections that the White House had said were “neither free nor fair and failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people.”

It its 2018 human rights report on Cambodia, the State Department cited several areas of concern in the country, including “unlawful or arbitrary killings carried out by the government or on its behalf; forced disappearance carried out by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary arrests by the government.”

Ericksen said he doesn’t dispute the human rights findings, but he said his trips there “paint a different picture.”

He said that his interest in the country developed following a meeting with a Cambodian delegation at the state Capitol in the spring of 2016, followed by his first trip to the country with his family that summer.

Talks following his trip to observe the elections led to this new role. Ericksen said he did his research to make sure it wouldn’t run afoul of any laws or rules.

“People talk about the optics, but nothing about the reality of a conflict of interest, because there is none,” he said.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit group that works to limit money in politics, said that while there may not be any legal or ethical questions, “I find it highly unusual for a country to hire a state senator to be a lobbyist.”

“I would certainly want to know what the Cambodian government thought they were getting,” he said.

Ericksen said he believes the relationships he has forged in Cambodia will help the two countries work together on issues ranging from anti-terrorism to combating human trafficking. “I think it’s a really unique opportunity to actually help people,” he said.

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