Street Journal, Feb
President Barack Obama's
former campaign manager
intends to give away
the fee he received from a paid private speech he made Monday in the
but authoritarian nation of Azerbaijan.
The speech was
arranged by lobbyists
working with a group that has ties to the Azerbaijan government,
according to people
familiar with the matter. But a close associate of David Plouffe
said he only learned of their involvement after he had already embarked
Caspian Sea nation.
Mr. Plouffe now
intends to donate his
speaking fee, which the associate said is in the range of $50,000, to
that advocate democratization in the turbulent post-Soviet states of
around the Caspian and Caucasus mountain range.
Mr. Plouffe also plans
to share the contents of the speech with opposition groups.
U.S. officials said
Mr. Plouffe coordinated
his talks with American officials in the region and that his message
uses of the Internet for democratic organizing advances longstanding U.S. policy. But they
added that the Azerbaijan government has
long sought to
legitimize itself by hosting prominent Americans, often with the help
of Washington lobbyists.
The country, in
the Caucasus region, is in the
midst of a campaign
over a referendum set for next month that would amend the constitution
to lift term limits on President Ilham Aliyev.
Mr. Aliyev assumed the post after the 2003 death of his father Haydar
the country's first president after gaining independence.
Azerbaijan is a key U.S. ally but the
State Department has also
criticized the country for its poor record on human rights and free elections.
Mr. Plouffe holds
no U.S. government
positions but controls the
remnants of Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign organization, which he built and
His speech at a local university was sponsored by a local
organization with ties to the Azerbaijan government.
"I'm here as a
private citizen, so
all I'm doing is talking about elections, and the Internet and
to talk about our election," Mr. Plouffe told a reporter from Radio
Europe who wasn't admitted to the speech.
appearance in Azerbaijan was
arranged by a
Washington-based lobbying firm called Bob Lawrence & Associates,
according to records and interviews. The company lists Azerbaijan among its clients
on its Web site.
People with knowledge of the speech said the appearance was arranged by
the Lawrence firm through Mr.
Plouffe's agent, the
Washington Speakers Bureau. A person answering the phone at the Lawrence firm said no one
was available for
comment. A spokesman for the Washington Speakers Bureau couldn't be
Robert Gibbs said Mr. Plouffe's visit was entirely private. "He's not
there at the behest of, and not delivering a message on behalf of, the president of the United
said. "If the
president had a message for Azerbaijan, he'd pick up the
Mr. Plouffe began
offering himself as a public speaker
recently through the Washington Speakers Bureau, which on its Web site
consultants' "fees vary based on event location." The Azerbaijan speech by Mr.
Plouffe, according to
one person who attended, dealt with using the Internet in elections and
didn't address the country's domestic political issues.
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