Turkey Paid McAuliffe's Firm To Lobby US Against Recognition of Armenian Genocide

Dem candidate's lobbying shop collected $1.3 million from Turkish government

Terry McAuliffe
Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe / Getty Images
August 20, 2021

A consulting firm cofounded by Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lobbied on behalf of the Turkish government to prevent the United States from official recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Turkey paid McAuliffe's firm, McAuliffe, Kelly, & Raffaelli, nearly $1.3 million from 1990 to 1994 for a variety of lobbying and public relations services, according to disclosures under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. At the time, the Turkish government faced scrutiny from the State Department and human rights groups over the alleged use of torture against members of Kurdish opposition groups.

McAuliffe's tenure at his consulting firm is a largely forgotten entry on his political résumé, which includes a stint as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a longtime friendship with the Clintons. McAuliffe has said he did not engage in the day-to-day lobbying activities at McAuliffe, Kelly, & Raffaelli, but his former partners have credited him as the glue that held the firm together. The firm at one point sported a roster of 60 clients, several of them controversial, Politico reported in 2013. In addition to Turkey, McAuliffe's firm represented the Lead Industry Association and cigarette maker Philip Morris.

McAuliffe, who is running for a nonconsecutive second term as Virginia governor, is narrowly leading Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin in polls.

According to its foreign agent disclosures, McAuliffe's firm received $1,287,500 from the Turkish government to arrange meetings with American policymakers for Turkey's ambassador and diplomats. Turkey's contract called on the firm to lobby Congress on bilateral trade and to "counter any efforts detrimental to the Turkish-U.S. relationship." One issue that has long strained U.S.-Turkey relations is the Ottoman Empire's murder of more than one million Armenians from 1915 to 1917.

McAuliffe's campaign said during a failed 2009 gubernatorial bid that McAuliffe, Kelly, & Raffaelli worked for Turkey on the genocide issue, the Washington Post reported at the time.

The Turkish government has doled out tens of millions of dollars to lobbying firms to prevent the U.S. government from labeling the mass murder a genocide. The pressure campaign succeeded until 2019, when the Senate passed a resolution that recognizes the genocide. The Biden administration in April recognized the atrocities as genocide.

McAuliffe, Kelly, & Rafaelli's work for Turkey was detailed in "The Torturers' Lobby," a 1992 report by the Center for Public Integrity. A 1991 State Department report said the Turkish government was at the time routinely torturing Kurds, often through the use of electric shocks, "beating of the genitalia," and rape.

McAuliffe's campaign did not respond to a request for comment about his firm's contract with Turkey or his position on the 2019 recognition of the Armenian genocide.

McAuliffe was implicated in the 1996 Democratic National Committee campaign finance scandal, in which he arranged overnight stays at the White House for Democratic party donors. Before his first stint as governor of Virginia, McAuliffe directly lobbied the Obama administration to help his electric car company, GreenTech Automotive, gain access to a federal visa program for potential Chinese investors. The Justice Department also investigated whether McAuliffe took illegal donations from a Chinese billionaire during his 2013 gubernatorial campaign.