Registered Foreign Agent Gave $200K to McAuliffe Campaign

Digital marketing firm Terakeet took over $1 million from UAE to rehabilitate country's image

Terry McAuliffe
Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe / Getty Images
October 8, 2021

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe raked in a $200,000 donation from a registered foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates, according to campaign finance and lobbying disclosure records.

The August donation came from Terakeet, a digital marketing firm that specializes in search engine optimization cofounded by a McAuliffe adviser. The company registered as a foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates last year as part of a larger campaign to rehabilitate the country's image. Activist groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have accused the country of committing war crimes and targeting civilians in airstrikes while leading a military coalition with Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

The Persian Gulf monarchy paid Terakeet over $1 million for "public relations activities relating to the embassy of the United Arab Emirates," including search engine optimization to "positively influence search results" in the United States, according to lobbying disclosure records filed with the Department of Justice.

The Terakeet donation comes as McAuliffe's links to foreign money and lobbying activities are under increased scrutiny. McAuliffe recently received a $350,000 contribution from a company owned by a Sri Lankan-British national—whose businesses are at the center of a money laundering case in France—in a potential violation of federal campaign finance laws, the Washington Free Beacon reported last week.

Terakeet did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for McAuliffe did not respond to a request for comment.

The National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group, said it was concerned about foreign financial influences on McAuliffe.

"McAuliffe’s ability to raise so much money from so many different sources with foreign interests should make any voter in the state of Virginia worry about his priorities if elected," said Tom Anderson, director of the NLPC’s Government Integrity Project.

Records show that the company hired at least eight tech specialists last year to support its work for the UAE. The UAE contract was scheduled for automatic annual renewal in March, according to a copy of the contract.

Last December, Human Rights Watch called for a U.S. arms embargo on the UAE, and activists have lobbied for prosecuting top officials for alleged war crimes before the International Criminal Court.

Terakeet was cofounded by MacLaren Cummings, a McAuliffe adviser and former finance aide to Hillary Clinton. The company also did digital outreach work for the Clinton campaign in 2016.

Terakeet’s $200,000 donation is one of the largest McAuliffe received from a private company this election.

Last week, ethics watchdogs raised questions about a $350,000 donation McAuliffe received from LycaTel, a company owned by a British national. Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, told the Free Beacon that donations from foreign-owned companies are "effectively a really easy way to launder foreign money into the U.S. political process."

In 2016, the FBI reportedly investigated a $120,000 donation McAuliffe received from a company owned by a Chinese businessman who was a delegate to China’s national legislature.