Beware of the American Political Snake Oil Salesmen
By Wayne Madsen (*) - 08. September 2018
The election engineering merchants of George Soros and other “one-size-fits-all” democracy templates may have been vanquished in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Myanmar, but they are, by no means, down and out. International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have simply borrowed a page from international consultancies and gone quasi-private, racking up lucrative contracts as political advisers to pro-capitalist candidates around the world.
With the US Foreign Service largely neutered under President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, there is virtually no one left at various US embassies in far-flung diplomatic posts to warn host governments about the modern version of American “snake oil salesmen” pitching their election assistance wares to unsuspecting candidates for office.
Take Vanguard Africa, a Washington, DC-based election campaign consultancy that seeks public contributions under the aegis of the Democratic Party’s fundraising organization, ActBlue. During a time when there are complaints in the United States of foreign interference in American elections, why is an outfit like Vanguard America involved in elections in The Gambia and Niger? What is good for the goose should be good for the gander.
If someone donates to ActBlue to elect more Democrats to the US Congress, state legislatures, and mayors’ offices, why is ActBlue, working with Vanguard Africa, involved in helping to elect in January 2017, Adama Barrow as president of The Gambia in West Africa? Vanguard Africa’s US leadership includes Joe Trippi, former Vermont Democratic Governor Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign chairman, and former Democratic US Representative Al Wynn of Maryland.
Vanguard Africa unabashedly admits on its website that it mixes election engineering with lobbying in Washington: “Access to Influential Leaders – Opening lines of communication and building trusted, long-term relationships with key pro-democracy groups, civic leaders, elected officials and policymakers – in Washington, DC and internationally.” While such a service helps line the pockets of Washington lobbyists and increases the profiles of certain African leaders, such as Barrow in The Gambia, it does little to alleviate the extreme poverty of Africans in The Gambia or anywhere else on the continent.
It is not merely the connections of outfits like Vanguard Africa to the Central Intelligence Agency-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) that should ring alarm bells, but also its connection to the Washington lobbying organization Sanitas International, whose partner, Christopher Harvin, is a co-founder of Vanguard Africa. Sanitas has a contract with Tzvika Brot, of Delaware-incorporated BSI Public Affairs, Brot ran the 2016 get-out-the-vote campaign targeting US voters in Israel on behalf of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. Washington deal-making does not get any “swampier” than this. And Mr. Trump, who rants and raves about “draining the swamp,” is one of its chief scaly denizens.
Perhaps it is time for an international convention, either through the auspices of the United Nations or regional supranational organizations, like the African Union, European Union, and others, to prohibit all foreign government or corporate interference in elections in other countries. If narcotics and human trafficking, as well as weapons smuggling, can be banned internationally, why not foreign election interference?
Such a regime would stop Vanguard Africa from providing advice to clients like Daher Ahmed Farah, the president of the of the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development opposition in the militarily-strategic country of Djibouti on the Red Sea, or Ibrahim Yacouba, a 2021 presidential candidate in Niger and Biram Dah Abeid, a failed 2014 presidential candidate in Mauritania. Questions have been raised about how Abeid became one of the richest men in Mauritania after receiving huge “human rights” grants from foreign NGOs. Apparently, promoting “democracy” on behalf of foreign masters can be a very lucrative business.
Vanguard receives funding from Tony O. Elumelu, one of Nigeria’s richest men and chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp, as well as the founder of the Africacapitalism Institute. While Barack Obama may have supported the “entrepreneurship” notions of “Africacapitalism,” the quasi-libertarian gobbledygook of a “rising tide lifts all boats” espoused as part of such policies represents a slap in the face of the pan-African socialism of the founders of modern independent Africa. These include Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, and Patrice Lumumba, and later, Muammar Qaddafi and Thomas Sankara.
The Guardian newspaper spelled out the problems associated with the “do-gooder capitalism” of those like Elumelu in a July 12, 2013 piece. The article quotes University of British Columbia law professor Joel Bakan as asserting that schemes like that of Elumelu parrot the rhetoric often used as a “smokescreen for big business to push towards deregulation.” Bakan believes that such “shared value” business models distort the public's relationship with mega-businesses. In Africa and Latin America, where state ownership of key industries and foreign government economic assistance programs helped advance national economies from Third World to Second and First World status, the arrival of snake oil salesmen selling “beneficial capitalism” led to crippling austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Another snake oil merchant, Avenue Strategies Global – co-founded by Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and Barry Bennett, manager of current Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s presidential run – is also selling political advice abroad. The firm, which is situated on a corner across from the White House, recently signed a lucrative contract with former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. It is obvious that Avenue Strategies is helping Tymosheno position herself for a future presidential run in Ukraine. And it is quite convenient that the firm, which Lewandowski has departed, is close, both geographically and politically, to the offices of Trump administration key officials, including National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Lewandowski is associated with another political advice consultancy, Turnberry Solutions, LLC of Washington, DC. Perhaps not coincidentally, Trump Turnberry is the name of Trump’s Scottish golf resort. Yet another Lewandowski-linked firm, Washington East West Political Strategies LLC, which dissolved in 2017, had been advising political candidates in Albania and Kosovo, as well as others in the Middle East, Canada, and Central America. Lewandowski’s links with the Amsterdam Group, another Washington lobbying firm, puts him in the same orbit as former YUKOS oil head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a client of Amsterdam Group and someone who has been working from the United States, Europe, and Israel to oust Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Of more concern is Lewandowski’s links to the Boston, Massachusetts-based social media analytics firm, Crimson Hexagon, which stands accused of manipulating Facebook data to affect election outcomes. The threat posed by the intersection of political advisory firms, “big data” manipulators, and NGOs cannot be underestimated.
Big Brother is now a reality and he does not want your vote, he wants to cast your vote. One of the most sinister buildings on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC is the inaptly-named US Institute of Peace. Its election manipulation activities, conducted in concert with consultancies, data analytics firms, and NGOs, often result in wars and civil strife.
As the weeping over the death of Senator John McCain subsides, it should be remembered that his pride and joy, the election-meddling International Republican Institute, and his former campaign manager, Rick Davis, had longstanding organizational ties to Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager. Manafort now sits in a jail cell in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted on eight counts of fraud, and awaiting trial in Washington, DC on additional criminal counts. The Trump administration wasted no time in immersing itself deep into this political swamp and help market American political snake oil to unsuspecting countries around the world.
Investigative journalist, author and syndicated columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club