WASHINGTON: APCO Worldwide founder and executive chairman Margery Kraus defended her firm’s commitment to the LGBTQ community this week after a critical story by The Intercept questioned its sincerity.
The article cited APCO’s representation of the Egyptian government, which has reportedly detained dozens of LGBTQ citizens in recent months, in questioning its support for LGBTQ issues. The article contrasted APCO’s history as a supporter of LGBTQ rights with the Egyptian government, suggesting the firm has avoided the topic while promoting the country.
Kraus contended the agency’s work has nothing to do with Egypt’s crackdown.
"The work we’re doing [for Egypt] is of a general nature. It's in our foreign agents filing and has nothing to do with this particular issue," she said. "What [the writer is] doing is trying to say that maybe we should've done something about this issue, but Egypt is a sovereign government. When we work with a client like that, you try to engage with them and you try help shape them, but...we never whitewash anything."
APCO has held the Egypt account for about five months. The contract pays $100,000 per month, or $1.2 million over a year, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act filings. The firm is tasked with promoting Egypt’s strategic partnership with the United States, its economic development, key attributes of its society, and its role in managing regional risk to D.C. audiences, according to filings with the Justice Department.
Avi Asher-Schapiro, the journalist who wrote the story for The Intercept, reiterated his contention that experts, LGBTQ activists, and human rights groups "are sounding the alarm" on the worsening situation for LGBTQ Egyptians while APCO promotes the country.
"APCO told me that its work drumming up positive press coverage for Egypt’s government, writing and distributing flattering pamphlets about Egypt’s president, and connecting Egyptian officials with American foreign policy elites has nothing to do with Egypt’s treatment of its LGBTQ citizens," he said. "Those who I spoke to for my story felt differently. As one Egyptian LGBTQ activist told me, anyone getting paid to portray the Egyptian government in a flattering light, while that government is rounding up and torturing gay people, is ‘helping them to abuse us.’"
Kraus defended her firm’s internal and external track record on LGBTQ issues and said the agency has spoken with employees and clients about the article.
"They know us. They know our record, especially on human rights. They know our employment practices," Kraus said. "We are probably the most diverse firm in the industry and the only one certified as diverse supplier at any scale. None of that is in the story. None of that would be possible if we were the kind of firm [the writer] portrayed in his article."
Work on behalf of Egypt also caused headaches for Weber Shandwick this year when a feature by the same journalist in The Atlantic, under the headline "Egypt’s Best Friends in DC," questioned why the firm represented the Egyptian government.
Weber dropped the account shortly after The Atlantic article was published, and the work was picked up by APCO. A Weber spokesperson said in July that the firm decided to discontinue all work on behalf of foreign governments trying to influence U.S. policy, including the Egypt account.
Former Weber subsidiary Cassidy & Associates works on the same Egypt contract providing government affairs services for $50,000 per month. After Weber passed the communications work to APCO, Cassidy remained on the contract.
Kraus said APCO was in talks with Weber and Egypt to take over the work "long before" the feature appeared in The Atlantic, and the decision was made to do so before its publication.
In a separate public statement on The Intercept story, Kraus stressed that her firm does not require staffrers to work on accounts with which they are not comfortable.
She said in the statement that APCO "does not condone, nor would we try to justify, specific policies or actions like those directed at the LGBTQ community" and the work for Egypt is "about promoting the country and its broad potential in an inclusive way and not about defending any specific actions of its leadership."