Hugo Chávez Is Tied to Giuliani Firm
By RUSS BUETTNERMARCH 15, 2007
Rudolph W. Giuliani’s law firm has lobbied for years on behalf of an oil company controlled by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, a strident critic of President Bush and American-style capitalism. Bracewell & Giuliani, the firm based in Houston that Mr. Giuliani joined as a name partner two years ago, handles lobbying in the Texas capital for the Citgo Petroleum Corporation of Houston. Citgo is the American subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil company that Mr. Chávez controls.
Mr. Giuliani’s duties at his law firm do not include lobbying. But the financial relationship with a company affiliated with one of the most outspoken critics of the United States potentially exposes Mr. Giuliani to new scrutiny as he campaigns to become the Republican nominee for president in 2008. Mr. Chávez has used his country’s oil wealth to lure fellow Latin American leaders away from alliances with the United States. In recent years, he has called Mr. Bush a “donkey,” a “drunkard” and a “coward,” blamed him for a failed 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela and allied himself with Fidel Castro.
The Giuliani campaign declined to answer questions yesterday about the client but issued a brief statement after a report about the relationship was posted by Bloomberg News that said the firm was paid about $5,000 a month for the work in 2005 and 2006. “Mayor Giuliani believes Hugo Chávez is not a friend of the United States and his influence continues to grow because of our increasing reliance on foreign sources of oil,” the statement said. “As the mayor has consistently stated, the development of alternative fuels is a priority that demands a solution in order to ensure the United States energy independence.”
The Citgo lobbying contract represents the first time that a client of one of Mr. Giuliani’s private businesses has become a potential campaign issue. The campaign had previously acknowledged that his clients might be used against him in the heat of a primary contest. Just last week, Mr. Giuliani announced an agreement to sell his boutique investment bank to an Australian company, based in part, his aides said, on his desire to avoid potential political problems. He still controls two consulting businesses. Mr. Giuliani has not released a complete list of his clients or the organizations that paid him for speeches. He has not yet been required to file a financial disclosure form, and the disclosure about the Citgo work emerged from filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.
David McCollum, a Citgo spokesman, said the company used another firm to lobby the federal government. Bracewell & Patterson, the firm’s name before Mr. Giuliani became a partner, had lobbied the Texas government for Citgo on tax, environmental and permitting issues since 2003.
“He really has no involvement with us at all personally,” Mr. McCollum said. “The folks we’re using are here in Texas.” In May 2006, the Department of State suspended arms sales to Venezuela, citing “a nearly total lack of cooperation with the United States’ antiterrorism efforts,” according to a news release. Mr. Chávez has been a regular target of conservative commentators.
Last year, former Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, Democrat of Massachusetts, came under wilting criticism from conservatives after a nonprofit program he ran arranged for discounted heating oil from Citgo to go to low-income households. Mr. McCollum suggested that it was unfair to view Citgo’s 4,000 United States employees, along with the additional 100,000 people who work at its independently owned gas stations, as the embodiment of Mr. Chávez. “We’re in the business of running a business,” he said. “We leave the politics to the politicians.”