KYIV -- The presidential campaign of Volodymyr Zelenskiy denied hiring a Washington lobbying firm to burnish his image in the U.S. capital, but one such firm recently reported being paid nearly $70,000 to do just that for the team of the newly elected Ukrainian president.
Lobbying firm Signal Group Consulting, LLC, filed a disclosure report with the U.S. Department of Justice on July 17 that showed work done on behalf of Zelenskiy in Washington between April 3 and May 21, a period of time that included the presidential runoff that Zelenskiy won and the day he took the oath of office.
The company said it had received two payments totaling $60,000 for services rendered and $9,371.80 in reimbursements for expenses from Marcus Cohen, who it said was representing Zelenskiy.
Reached on August 2, Zelenskiy’s office declined to comment on the new filing. In an e-mail, Signal Group Executive Vice President John Proctor said that the firm's "work for [Zelenskiy] and the Servant of the People party through Marcus Cohen concluded on May 21 and is detailed in our [Foreign Agents Registration Act] FARA filings," and declined to comment further. Cohen could not immediately be reached for comment.
Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old former comedian, defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko by a landslide in the April 21 runoff and was inaugurated as president of Ukraine on May 20. His Servant of the People party, which shares the same name as the TV sitcom that made him famous, won a ruling majority in parliamentary elections last month.
Zelenskiy has spoken by phone with U.S. President Donald Trump, who invited him to Washington, but the two are yet to meet in person. Zelenskiy’s office has said a White House visit is expected later in August or in early September.
Signal Group’s work for Zelenskiy was first reported by RFE/RL on April 17, when a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing was made public. It said that the firm had been hired on behalf of the candidate and his fledgling party by Cohen “to elevate the profile of Volodymyr Zelenskiy -- Servant of the People.”
Zelenskiy’s campaign denied hiring Signal Group at the time, although a campaign official who requested anonymity to speak about the issue seemed to contradict that by telling RFE/RL it showed the importance to Zelenskiy of Western support.
The United States has provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in financial aid to advance reforms, stimulate economic growth, and strengthen its democratic institutions and defense capabilities.
Despite the denial, the work -- which Signal Group’s John Proctor told RFE/RL in April would include facilitating meetings for the candidate’s team members with officials on Capitol Hill and the Trump administration, members of the news media, and the think tank and policy community -- appears to have been carried out.
Signal Group wrote in the July filing that its work in April and May comprised “organizing a program of public relations and government relations meetings, introduction of the foreign principal to the U.S. media, facilitated media interviews, alongside meetings with think tank scholars and issue experts, and provided strategic U.S. media and governmental affairs counsel.”
It included a list of five consultants and one lobbyist involved in the contract.
The filing does not name any Zelenskiy campaign officials it aided. Proctor told RFE/RL in April that Signal Group was helping then Servant of the People Party leader Ivan Bakanov, who has since been appointed by Zelenskiy as acting head of Ukraine’s domestic security service, and economic adviser Oleh Dubyna, a former energy minister and vice prime minister, during their visit to Washington.
According to the document, Signal Group sought meetings with the State Department, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, several senators, and other individuals and organizations -- including media outlets CNN, The Washington Post, and The Daily Caller. It is unclear with whom the Zelenskiy campaign officials met on their visit.
A breakdown of expenses from the Zelenskiy team’s visit shows the group used taxi services Lyft and Uber to get around Washington on April 15-17. They also paid $330 for a limousine.
The biggest expense incurred was a $1,912.90 dinner at BLT Steak, a swanky Washington restaurant that boasts American and Japanese Wagyu beef.