One of the roughly 10 lobbying firms that represent the Saudi government, the Harbour Group, has dropped it as a client, and others are considering following suit, according to people familiar with discussions, as Saudi Arabia struggles with a backlash over allegations that it murdered the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
The lobbying firms are privately discussing how to proceed, these people said. But some have already decided that the prospect of continued paychecks from Saudi Arabia — once a prized and profitable client — is not worth the risk to their reputations.
But for financial and technology companies, several of which have multibillion-dollar ties to Saudi Arabia, the calculus is more complicated. Few executives have backed out of the conference, which is called the Future Investment Initiative but is known colloquially as Davos in the Desert.
Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, was one of the few to announce that they would back out.
.. The Public Investment Fund, a large Saudi sovereign wealth fund, invested $3.5 billion for a 5.6 percent share in Uber in June 2016.
The fund’s managing director, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, took a seat on Uber’s board. Prince Mohammed is the chairman of the Public Investment Fund.
.. Blackstone’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, remains an advisory board member and is expected to speak at the conference, which is held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, where Prince Mohammed locked up hundreds of wealthy Saudis last year in what he called an anti-corruption campaign but critics said was an effort to crush dissent.
.. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, is also still planning to attend
.. Peter Thiel, the technology venture capitalist who was once an ally of President Trump and is known for his independent streak, is still a member of the event’s advisory board but had never planned to attend the gathering, according to a person close to Mr. Thiel.
.. Richard Branson, the billionaire British entrepreneur, said that he had suspended his directorship at two tourism projects near the Red Sea and that his space ventures would halt their discussions over proposed investments from the Public Investment Fund... Saudi Arabia has been a coveted client, thanks to its reputation for paying above-market rates and its status as one of the United States’ most reliable allies in an unstable region, which seemed cemented by the ties between Prince Mohammed and the Trump administration... The debates about dropping the Saudi account also reflect the skittishness of the lobbying industry at a time when it has faced mounting scrutiny from federal investigators, including the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, about how foreign interests try to shape American politics and policy... The highest-paid firms representing the Saudis in Washington are the international public affairs consultancy
- Qorvis MSLGroup, which is being paid $279,500 a month, and the
- Glover Park Group, which was started by former Clinton administration officials and is being paid $150,000 a month.. Another two firms are being paid $125,000 a month —
- Hogan Lovells, which has Norm Coleman, a former senator of Minnesota, as its point person for Saudi work, and
- Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has a bipartisan team composed of Marc S. Lampkin, a former aide to the former House speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, and Alfred E. Mottur, a top fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
.. Not all of these firms will drop the Saudis. Some are leaning toward maintaining their contracts, in part because they predict that if they were to abandon the country en masse, it could lead to reduced cooperation from the Saudi government.