Amid its muscular lobbying push in Washington, Azerbaijan has hired a veteran Republican Party adviser and political strategist to boost its public image in the United States.
Baku’s embassy in Washington has signed a contract with Liz Mair, whose public-relations firm will aim to generate news coverage to “impact various U.S. government officials, as well as the U.S. general public,” according to a U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) disclosure statement signed on October 9.
Under the terms of the six-month contract, Azerbaijan will pay Mair’s firm, Mair Strategies, $15,000 a month for public-relations services, according FARA documents.
Mair has served as an online communications strategist to senior Republican officials, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. She is also a former online communications director for the Republican National Committee.
The hiring was first reported by Politico Influence, a newsletter on Washington’s lobbying community, which cited a source familiar with the contract.
The move comes as Azerbaijan faces mounting criticism over its human rights record from Western officials, analysts, and rights groups.
Since Azerbaijan assumed the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers in May, it has undertaken “the most serious and brutal crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan ever,” according to the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative.
At the same time, Azerbaijani officials have sought to portray the country as a valuable U.S. and European ally, and as a crucial player in energy security amid an increasingly aggressive Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
Critics have accused Baku of using the Ukraine crisis and its lobbying push to deflect attention from its human rights record, including a sweeping crackdown in recent months against journalists, lawyers, and other government critics in Azerbaijan.
In 2013, Azerbaijan was the 10th-largest spender on lobbying efforts in the United States among foreign governments, shelling out almost $2.3 million, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.
Azerbaijan has also signed a $50,000-per-month contract with The Podesta Group, a top Washington lobbying firm.
Baku’s contract with Mair states that her firm will “assist in communicating priority issues relevant to the Republic of Azerbaijan to relevant audiences in the United States, including through media outlets.”
Mair, who is the 100-percent owner of Mair Strategies, declined to comment when contacted by RFE/RL.
Mair Strategies describes itself as a “a boutique online communications firm focusing on state-level, national and international issues for an array of Fortune 500 clients and major trade associations.”
-- Luke Johnson