A Sibling Symbiosis in the Capitol

Times Staff Writer

Like many sisters, Tanya Rahall talks to her brother often. But unlike most sisters, she gets paid handsomely to do it.

Rahall makes $15,000 a month lobbying Congress for the tiny Arab country of Qatar. And the person she frequently lobbies is Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.), her older brother and one of Qatar’s biggest champions in Washington.

Qatar paid her for helping him craft a resolution praising the country for “years of Democratic reform,” even though it remained a monarchy without organized political opposition. She has recruited members of Congress for a pro-Qatar caucus that he leads, and accompanied him and other members on a visit to Doha, Qatar.


The Rahalls are the latest example of a growing, unregulated practice in Washington: paying relatives of helpful members of Congress as lobbyists and consultants.

Over the last year, The Times has identified seven senators and four House members with relatives who worked for special interests that the lawmakers aided. The family members -- 10 sons, a daughter, a sister, a wife and two in-laws -- represented clients that included nine major American industries, several foreign corporations and, in the Rahall case, a foreign government.

Rep. Rahall declined to answer specific questions, but said in a written statement that he and his sister had “shared interests in issues important to West Virginia, and in Middle East issues to further America’s and West Virginia’s interests abroad.”

As a result, “our paths cross professionally, but not across any lines appropriately established by law or House rules.”

“Given her years of experience, I find her advice, insightful, dedicated, but objective, and useful in fulfilling my responsibilities to the people of West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District,” the statement said.

Tanya Rahall, a self-employed government and public relations consultant, said her brother played no role in helping her get the Qatar contract or other clients. “Everything I have gotten I have gotten on my own,” she said. “We have both been active on Arab American issues. It is what we care about. I do it for a living.”

There are no rules specifically barring members of Congress from acting on behalf of relatives’ clients. Indeed, limits on speaking fees and campaign donations have made hiring family one of the few unregulated ways in which special interests can ingratiate themselves with lawmakers.

Since the Times reports, the practice has attracted scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

Senate and House ethics committees have begun fact-finding inquiries at the request of two lawmakers who were the subjects of Times stories, said William B. Canfield, an ethics attorney who is representing them. The House is looking at actions Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) took on behalf of his daughter’s public relations clients, Canfield said. The Senate is scrutinizing business deals involving Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), family members and businessmen that he has helped in Washington.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has called for a review of ethics rules for lobbyists, following stories detailing legislation he sponsored that benefited clients of his sons and son-in-law.

Rep. Rahall’s official congressional biography does not mention his work on Arab issues. Instead, it focuses on what he has done for West Virginia: protecting coal mining as the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Resources and bringing large amounts of federal highway money to the state as the second senior Democrat on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

But Rahall, 55, is also the most senior of five Arab American lawmakers and is an advocate for Arab countries in a Congress dominated by pro-Israel members.

In 1993, he was the lone House member to vote against a resolution calling for an end to an Arab boycott of Israel. He spent years pressing the State Department to end a ban on travel to Lebanon, where his grandfathers were born. He got his wish in 1997.

In 2001, he was one of 11 members of Congress to vote against a resolution insisting that the Palestinian Authority take steps to end a terrorist campaign -- because, he said at the time, it did not also condemn attacks on Palestinians by Israelis.

He flew to Iraq in 2002 to meet with a top aide to Saddam Hussein in an effort to avert war, and voted against going to war. And he traveled to Syria to meet with President Bashar Assad in 2003, and voted against increasing sanctions based on allegations that the country was a state sponsor of terrorism.

Qatar, a small desert monarchy with large gas and oil reserves, also has received help from Rahall in improving its image in the United States.

While Qatar has been a strategic U.S. ally in the Middle East, the State Department’s annual reports on the country’s human rights have taken the country to task for withholding political freedom from its citizens and basic civil rights from its foreign workers. Noncitizens make up 75% of Qatar’s population of 840,290.

The most recent report said the country had taken “significant steps toward democratic governance” with adoption of a constitution last year that created an elected parliament. However, the report noted that the constitution maintained the hereditary rule by the emir, Sheik Hamad ibn Khalifa al Thani, and his branch of the family. Political parties are still prohibited, political demonstrations generally are not allowed and treatment of foreign workers is sometimes tantamount to forced labor, the report said.

In addition, the country has had to counter allegations by U.S. counterterrorism officials that it had Al Qaeda ties before Sept. 11. Authorities contended that the current interior minister, Sheik Abdullah ibn Khalid al Thani, harbored suspects in the World Trade Center bombing who were sought in 1996.

Officials at the Qatar Embassy in Washington were not available for comment.

Rep. Rahall traveled to Qatar in 1997 and in 2000. According to his congressional disclosure reports, the first trip was paid for by a foundation associated with the National Association of Arab Americans, and the second by the Islamic Institute, a group also known as the Islamic Free Market Institute Foundation.

In 2001, Rahall was invited by the Islamic Institute to be one of the opening speakers at its first Conference on Democracy and Free Trade, held in Qatar. This time he traveled with his sister, she said.

Tanya Rahall, 45, has worked closely with her brother since she graduated from college in 1980 and became a volunteer in his congressional office. She said she got a paying job on a committee chaired by then-Rep. Austin J. Murphy (D-Pa.), whose daughter was later hired by Rep. Rahall.

Tanya Rahall worked for an Arab American policy group, then founded the American Task Force for Lebanon before setting up her own business, Rahall Consulting Group, in 1994, she said. It’s a one-person shop that offers public relations, lobbying and fundraising services.

Her recent clients have included several Arab American groups, a technology company and a charity golf tournament that featured Washington politicians, according to a resume and client list that she provided.

Her resume highlights her ties to her brother, including her work as a paid fundraiser for his reelection committee and as “a volunteer consultant to Congressman Rahall on several issues.”

She said her brother was not a factor in the Qatar Embassy’s request that she attend the 2001 conference, even though the invitation was sent to her through his congressional office.

“I think they were interested in me on a professional level,” she said.

She met the emir and other Qatari officials during the visit, she said, and landed the $15,000-a-month contract from the Qatar Embassy in Washington in the fall of 2002, according to her foreign agent filings with the Justice Department.

The contract says she will advise the embassy on government and public relations matters including “advice and recommendations concerning U.S. congressional communications and visits.”

“I never discussed it with Nick,” said Tanya Rahall, who said the negotiations were between her and the ambassador. “He [Rep. Rahall] knew when I signed the contact.”

Qatar already had a large Washington lobbying and law firm, Patton Boggs, on its payroll when Tanya Rahall was hired.

“Patton Boggs helps Qatar navigate the legal and policy side,” a spokesman for the firm said. “She works the Hill.”

Much of what she has done on the Hill for Qatar involves her brother.

She helped recruit more than 40 members of Congress for the Qatari-American Caucus, her resume says. The congressional caucus was founded by her brother and another congressman, and her resume says she helped create it.

She said she also helped recruit her brother and 10 other members of Congress to go to Doha on their spring break to meet with the emir and top Qatari officials, academics and journalists at the third annual Qatar Conference on Democracy and Free Trade in 2003.

According to her foreign agent filings, she met three times with her brother to discuss the conference, including one meeting to draw up a list of members to invite. The conference, sponsored by the Islamic Institute and other organizations, paid for Rep. Rahall’s travel and lodging, his travel disclosure report says.

Thanks to her brother, the trip generated some good public relations.

As he was leaving for Doha, Rep. Rahall issued a news release that called Qatar “a leader in the Middle East and a true friend of the United States.”

Noting that the U.S. headquarters for the Iraq war had been in Doha, Rahall said, “Qatar has been a strong ally in support of our troops, and we are thankful for the support they have given our brave men and women.”

When she got back, Tanya Rahall worked with her brother on making the May 2003 visit of the emir to Washington a success, she said in an interview and reported in her foreign agent filings.

They crafted a resolution with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), introduced in the House, to welcome the emir and thank Qatar for its help during the Iraq war, according to the records and interview. A nearly identical resolution was introduced in the Senate by Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) at the request of Rep. Rahall’s staff, the senator’s spokesman said.

Tanya Rahall’s foreign agent reports show that she had phone and e-mail discussions with Rahall’s chief of staff starting two weeks before the resolutions were introduced. She also had discussions with key aides to Rohrabacher and Sununu, the records show.

She said she was involved in the “back and forth on the language.”

The emir was given copies of the resolutions at a May 8 reception sponsored by the Qatari-American Caucus, she said. It was their “kickoff reception,” and Tanya Rahall called members of Congress to get them to attend, according to her foreign agent filings.

Her brother was one of the speakers at the reception in his role as a co-chairman of the caucus.

Qatar is one of three active clients for Tanya Rahall, according to her list of clients from March. She said that she had pitched her services to several other foreign countries without success. She said she was working with a large public relations firm on a new potential foreign client.

“I am not discussing who it is at this time,” she said.

Researcher Mark Madden in Washington contributed to this report.



The lawmakers

In the past year, the Los Angeles Times has written about 11 U.S. senators and congressmen whose relatives were hired by special interests that the lawmakers have helped. The list:


Ted B. Stevens (R-Alaska)

President pro tempore; Chairman, Appropriations Committee

Relative: Son and brother-in-law

John B. Breaux (D-La.)

Deputy minority whip

Relative: Son

Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

Minority whip

Relatives: Sons and son-in-law

Trent G. Lott (R-Miss.)

Chairman, Rules and Administration Committee; former majority leader

Relative: Son

Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah)

Chairman, Judiciary Committee

Relative: Son

Sen. Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.)

Minority leader

Relative: Wife

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

Relative: Son

House of Representatives

Curt Weldon (R-Pa.)

Vice chairman, Armed Services Committee

Relative: Daughter

Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.)

Ranking member, Resources Committee

Relative: Sister

W.J. ‘Billy’ Tauzin Jr. (R-La.)

Former chairman, Energy and Commerce Committee

Relative: Son

J. Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.)

House speaker

Relative: Son

Los Angeles Times