Senator Vitter Becomes "Proud Member Of The Hikvision Team", Calls Out "Anti-China" RubioBy: John Honovich, Published on Oct 29, 2019
Senator turned China lobbyist David Vitter has become a self-proclaimed 'proud member of the Hikvision team', a China (PRC) government-owned company banned and sanctioned by the USA.
IPVM obtained an audio recording of a Hikvision USA employee conference call where Senator Vitter declares his 'team', implores the team that Hikvision will survive in the USA and calls out Senator Rubio as 'anti-China'.
David Vitter is a longtime Louisiana Republican politician, having served as a US Senator from 2005-2017, US Representative from 1999-2005, and State Rep from 1992-1995. He is now a lobbyist with Mercury Public Affairs.
On a conference call after the US government sanctioned Hikvision, Senator Vitter declared his team:
Certainly Jeffrey. And I'm happy to join this conversation as a proud member of the Hikvision team and thank you for all your leadership of all of our team. I'm Senator David Vitter, I served in the US Senate for two terms, 12 years. And prior to that, I served in the US House of Representatives. [emphasis added]
Team Libya and Zimbabwe
Senator Vitter is also lobbying for Libya and Zimbabwe, as this September 2019 US federal filing shows:
- Libya: UN sanctions for human traffickers after CNN broadcast live slave auctions
- Zimbabwe: US sanctions for "gross violations of human rights" after a government crackdown on protesters left 17 dead in January
Senator Vitter, though, has built a practice around defending such organizations:
Make Sure Hikvision USA Survives
Senator Vitter says that his goal has been to ensure Hikvision's US survival:
From the beginning, all of our collective goal in this very negative, anti-China trade war environment has really been to make sure Hikvision survived in the United States. [emphasis added]
The 'Entity List' sanctions passed last week were not the most serious ones possible. Had Magnitsky sanctions been imposed, as some politicians floated last year, Hikvision would have been banned from transacting with any US entity and its US assets frozen. This would have shut down Hikvision USA. Vitter continued on the call:
our collective goal under Jeffrey's leadership, given these assaults, and given the very negative anti-Chinese and trade war atmosphere was to make sure Hikvision could survive in the US. Certainly, this action designation on the entity list that was announced yesterday is not good news, absolutely not. However, we are surviving in the US, and I feel very good about Hikvision continuing to survive in the US [emphasis added]
Even without Magnitsky sanctions, Hikvision's USA revenue has been declining for more than a year with the company expecting further customer losses in the current Q4 2019 after the sanctions were imposed.
$3 Million Lobbying Expenses
Hikvision is spending significantly to oppose both the US government ban and sanctions with at least $3 million in lobbying spent since 2018:
- $1.2m on Mercury (Vitter's organization) alone. Hikvision hired Mercury in August 2018 on a minimum rate of $70,000 per month but has gone well above that, spending ~$110,000 per month for one six month period.
- Over $2m on two other firms, Sidley Austin and the Glover Park Group. In August, Reuters estimated that Hikvision spent $1.63m on the two firms (based on government filings.) That was before Hikvision disclosed spending another $500,000 on Sidley in Q3 2019. Sidley Austin tasked another politician, former US Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), with Hikvision.
- $25,000 monthly minimum for six months in 2018 to another firm, Burson Marsteller. After a merger that year this firm became Burson Cohn & Wolfe; BCW remains a Hikvision client, and Hikvision spent $185,511 on them in 2019, it disclosed in August. BCW was on the same Hikvision employee call.
Not included in these expenses is Hikvision hiring DC lobbying firm Arent Fox to review its Xinjiang human rights issues. This spending is not disclosed in government reports since their actions here, for now, are not technically lobbying.
Other expenses not included are the various in-house Hikvision PR positions focused on this campaign including:
- Jeffrey He, who was removed from running North America, and now runs 'international public affairs'
- Michael Gutierrez, the ex-Herbalife exec who is now Hikvision's 'Global Director of Public Affairs'
- Martha Entwistle, former SSN editor, who is Hikvision USA's 'Senior Manager of Strategic Communications'.
Senator Vitter also took aim at Senator Marco Rubio on the Hikvision call for being "one of the loudest anti-China voices":
Senator Rubio, he has decked out a very clear position, which is really contrary to everything we're trying to defend. We have not engaged with them, because we think doing that would be fruitless, and probably counter-productive, it would only give him more information and more ammunition for him to pursue what is the very clear, anti-China and anti-Hikvision agenda.
Ethics aside, Vitter is winning here. Vitter's pro-Hikvision, pro-Libya, pro-Zimbabwe efforts will earn him millions, regardless of what happens to those entities.
Long Shot For Hikvision
For Hikvision, winning is possible but difficult. Given the evidence of Hikvision's Xinjiang direct involvement, increased authoritarianism in the PRC under Xi Jinping and strengthening US opposition, Hikvision may not be successful in getting the US government to overturn the ban or sanctions just for them.
However, if it did achieve this while its arch-rival Dahua remained banned and sanctioned, it would be a powerful win for Hikvision, clearly justifying the millions spent.
But Shows Hikvision Power
Even though the odds are against Hikvision here, it does show Hikvision's virtually limitless ability to spend and the strength of the PRC government-owned Hikvision to get a US Senator as a proud member of their team, even if he is also on Libya and Zimbabwe's.