Washington briefing: Obama campaign manager queried over paid speech in Azerbaijan

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Friday February 13, 2009

Plouffe in Baku. RFE/RL.

Washington - David Plouffe pledged to donate proceeds from his paid speech in Azerbaijan to pro-democracy groups after his surprise trip was made public and subsequently questioned in U.S. media, the Wall Street Journal reported on February 9. Mr. Plouffe was Barack Obama's campaign manager.

Mr. Plouffe, who secured a lucrative deal to write a book about the presidential campaign, registered with the Washington Speakers Bureau, based in Alexandria, Va., to deliver paid speeches on the subject. He was reportedly paid $50,000 in addition to expenses associated with a two-day trip to deliver a lecture at an Azerbaijani college.

The trip and payment were reportedly arranged by hired American lobbyists for Azerbaijan who are also based in the same Virginia suburb of Washington. Mr. Plouffe was expected to meet President Ilham Aliyev, although contrary to usual practice, the meeting was not publicized by the president's office.

According Mr. Plouffe's associate contacted by the Journal, Mr. Plouffe "only learned of [foreign government lobbyists'] involvement after he had already embarked for the Caspian Sea nation."

The newspaper also cited U.S. officials as noting the "Azerbaijan government has long sought to legitimize itself by hosting prominent Americans, often with the help of Washington lobbyists." Other leading media outlets question Mr. Plouffe's liaison with an authoritarian leader.

The White House spokesperson said that Mr. Plouffe's trip was as a "private citizen" and he was not asked to deliver any messages on behalf of the Obama administration.

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