Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.
The announced deal of professional golf organizations, including the Saudi Arabia-connected LIV Golf, is already drawing scrutiny on Capitol Hill and may put the spotlight on the kingdom’s wide influence network.
LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, previously rivals and in litigation, said Tuesday they planned to partner and combine assets into a for-profit company and drop the lawsuits. LIV is backed by Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund.
The deal will put new attention not only on the PGA and LIV lobbying teams but also on the array of firms representing Saudi interests in the United States, a contingent that has fully rebounded after some lobbying firms broke ties with the kingdom after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The golfing associations have drawn on a high powered group of Washington insiders to press their causes, including former Rep. Benjamin Quayle (R-Ariz), former Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Jeff Miller, who is close to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy R-Calif.) .
The firms may have their work cut out for them as lawmakers on Tuesday were threatening to investigate the arrangement.
“Hypocrisy doesn’t begin to describe this brazen, shameless cash grab,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, in a tweet about the announced deal. “I’m going to dive into every piece of Saudi Arabia’s deal with the PGA. U.S. officials need to consider whether a deal will give the Saudi regime inappropriate control or access to U.S. real estate.”
Other lawmakers expressed skepticism or opposition to the deal including Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who last year had called on the Justice Department to probe whether LIV Golf and entities tied to it needed to register and disclose lobbying activities under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The firm Gitcho Goodwin registered this year under FARA to represent LIV Golf, according to DOJ filings.
LIV Golf is represented by Hobart Hallaway & Quayle Ventures including Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, and Rashid Hallaway, a former aide to then-Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), according to lobbying reports filed with Congress.
LIV paid the firm $140,000 for lobbying in the first quarter of this year for work on issues “related to tax exempt organizations” and “protecting the rights of professional golfers to play when and where they choose,” according to a disclosure.
The PGA Tour’s registered lobbyists this year include McCarthy friend and fundraiser Miller, through his firm Miller Strategies, which disclosed $110,000 for work in the first quarter, according to a disclosure report.
Chambliss and a team from the firm DLA Piper also represented the PGA, reporting $80,000 in the first quarter, according to a disclosure.
Crossroads Strategies disclosed representing the Professional Golfers’ Association of America for $30,000 in the first quarter on issues “related to the treatment of golf courses and sports leagues in tax legislation,” according to a filing.
Laura Neal, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president for brand communications, said in an email that there were no antitrust concerns with the deal.
“We can’t say for sure but there may well not be any regulatory filing in connection with the definitive agreement,” Neal said in an email.
Firms representing Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and their role, if any, is unclear in the golf deal. But there is no shortage of lobbyists and public relations executives, who are registered with the Justice Department, to represent the kingdom.
They include Qorvis Communications, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the McKeon Group, and Teneo Strategy.
Joshua Rosenstein, a lawyer with Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock who handles FARA matters for clients but does not represent LIV or PGA, said that depending on what the new golf corporate entity looks like there may be pressure for it to register under FARA, which requires lawyers, lobbyists and public relations advisers to disclose their contracts and contacts with officials.
“We do know that it appears the new entity will be at least partially funded by the Saudi public investment fund, which certainly raises the specter that the new golf league might have FARA implications,” Rosenstein said. “However, FARA does contain an exemption for commercial activities.”
Lawmakers say they plan to closely monitor the deal – and that could well rope in lobbyists for the government of Saudi Arabia. Many have been critical of the kingdom’s rulers after the murder of Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a television interview that he accepted “full responsibility” for the killing but denied ordering it.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that the PGA Tour had spent the past two years lambasting the Saudi-backed LIV which “will now be used unabashedly by the Kingdom to distract from its many crimes. The PGA Tour has placed a price on human rights and betrayed the long history of sports and athletes that advocate for social change and progress. I will keep a close eye on the structure of this deal and its implications.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted about his recent interactions with the PGA.
“PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis’ human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport,” he wrote. “I guess maybe their concerns weren’t really about human rights?”
To contact the reporter on this story: Kate Ackley at email@example.com