Ballard Partners has signed a one-year lobbying contract with Guatemala worth an estimated $900,000.
The deal will see the firm provide the Central American nation with legislative updates and handle its public relations efforts in the United States.
The lobbying deal comes as Guatemala continues to struggle with corruption and human trafficking. It is also the home country for a large portion of the migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Taiwan is reportedly covering the cost of the Ballard Partners contract for Guatemala, which is one of the poorest nations in Central America and one of the few that still recognizes Taiwan, rather than the People’s Republic of China, as the legitimate government of China.
Vice President Kamala Harris visited the nation last year and has opened a dialogue with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammetti centered on combatting public corruption.
Lobbyists signed on to the deal include firm founder Brian Ballard, Jose Felix Diaz, John O’Hanlon and Justin Sayfie.
Ballard Partners has been one of the largest lobbying firms in the Sunshine State for years and has quickly become one of the largest in Washington since it expanded its operation after the election of former President Donald Trump.
On Sunday, the State Department blasted Giammattei’s government for seeking to lift the immunity from prosecution of a judge who has won high honors in Washington for exposing bribery in Guatemala.
“This action against an internationally recognized independent judge weakens a vital pillar of Guatemala’s democracy and judicial system,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
In its registration, Ballard only said it would provide “strategic consulting and advocacy services” related to Guatemala’s interactions with the U.S. government and U.S. officials.
Sayfie, a partner in Ballard’s Washington office, declined to comment further. But he said the request for Taiwan to assume responsibility for payment was not the firm’s idea.
“It’s unusual for one government to be paying the fees for lobbying for another government,” said Robert Kelner, an attorney specializing in compliance with foreign lobbying laws for Covington & Burling. “It’s not illegal. But it does raise a question of whether the government that pays also needs to be listed by the lobbying firm as a foreign principal.”
In early 2019, the firm opened a public relations branch to provide media relations and public affairs counsel in addition to lobbying services.
It has expanded its footprint in recent years, most recently by opening a branch in Boston. It has also established itself as one of the foremost bipartisan firms operating in the nation’s capital by hiring on experienced Democratic operatives.
O’Hanlon, for instance, is the founder of one of Washington’s most successful Democratic lobbying firms. He joined Ballard Partners in October 2021.
Reporting by the Associated Press was used in this report.