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Top Senate Democrat Has Lobbyist for Middle Eastern Country as Campaign Chief

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Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez’s reelection campaign chairman, Michael Soliman, is a lobbyist for Middle Eastern country Qatar, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer Friday.

Soliman, 39, has worked for years for Menendez, who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The public relations firm Mercury Public Affairs where Soliman is a partner has received at least $100,000 a month from the Qatari embassy since 2015, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Menendez’s campaign has paid Mercury $105,000 in total since 2015.

Soliman has “lobbied Menendez and other members of Congress on behalf of the government of Qatar, arranging meetings for the country’s ambassador to the U.S. and raising issues important to Qatar’s relationship with Washington” since 2015, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Menendez has met with Qatari officials and has posted photos from dinners with them on his website.

“Out of an overabundance of caution,” Soliman will not “directly or indirectly lobby the senator or his staff on behalf of any client for the duration of the campaign,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Andrew Seidman of the Philadelphia Inquirer contrasted Soliman’s dual role with campaign managers who have also had foreign lobbying experience, like disgraced former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain’s former adviser Randy Scheunemann, who had to step down from his lobbying firm during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Menendez’s campaign is vulnerable after he narrowly escaped conviction for corruption in 2017.

Do you think this choice of campaign chairman is a conflict of interest?

If Menendez beats Republican Bob Hugin in November and Democrats gain a Senate majority, Menendez “would be poised to chair the Foreign Relations Committee — potentially boosting Soliman’s value as a lobbyist,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Persian Gulf country Qatar may be small — it has a population of approximately 2.5 million people — but it has the highest per capita income in the world and plentiful oil and natural gas reserves.

The country has been in a trade war with regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that even U.S. President Donald Trump has waded into.

Qatar spent more than $4 million on “U.S. influence campaigns” between June and October 2017 after Saudi Arabia led a coalition of other powers to pressure Qatar in June 2017, according to OpenSecrets.org.

“More than a half-dozen” Mercury lobbyists have worked for Qatar, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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