Huffpost Politics

Jeff Flake, Arizona Senate Candidate, Criticized For Namibia Lobbying Ties To South Africa

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Rep. Jeff Flake
Rep. Jeff Flake

National Democrats are attacking a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona over what they say are misleading statements he made on an Arizona public affairs show Sunday about his work for Namibian companies in the early 1990s and their possible ties to South Africa's apartheid regime.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R) said on a news program on the Phoenix NBC affiliate Sunday that his work as a lobbyist in Washington on behalf of several Namibian companies was not connected to the then-South African government, which was supporting apartheid. Namibia achieved independence from South Africa in 1989. Flake was asked if the companies he worked for had direct or indirect ties to South Africa.

Flake said that his work was "absolutely not" connected to the South African government at the time and took aim at those who suggest that he was connected to apartheid. He noted that he worked in Namibia during the late 1980s with a group that supported the independence movement, including economic development.

"For anybody to suggest that I in any way accepted what the South Africans were doing or the politics of apartheid is offensive," Flake said.

An April National Journal piece on Flake's lobbying history may suggest some indirect ties between his work and the South African government. It said that in the 1980s, he worked for a Washington public affairs firm with ties to the South African-appointed leaders of Namibia and that a company he lobbied for the 1990s was headquartered in the Washington office of the same lobbying firm.

Flake’s work for Rossing was not his only stint in Washington’s influence sector. Between Flake’s missionary work in 1982-83 and his 1989 trip to Namibia, he worked at law firm Smoak, Shipley & Henry, whose principals, Marion Smoak and Carl Shipley, had ties to the South African-controlled regime in Namibia during apartheid.

There’s no evidence that Flake ever supported apartheid, but he did work as an administrative assistant and later a registered foreign agent for a group called the Namibia News Bureau, operated out of Smoak and Shipley’s offices, federal records show. Bruce Brager, who was the director of the Namibia News Bureau at the time, described Flake in an interview as “very dedicated” to his job. “His work was lobbying on Capitol Hill,” Brager recalled.

Flake's campaign spokesman did not return calls for comment.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was quick to attack Flake's comments. Flake is locked in a GOP primary battle with businessman Wil Cardon for the right to face Democrat Richard Carmona in November for the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.

“Jeff Flake is blatantly misleading Arizonans about the years he spent as a lobbyist and registered foreign agent, trying to grease the wheels in Washington on behalf of his clients,” DSCC spokesman Matt Canter said in a statement to HuffPost “Jeff Flake already admitted that he lied to Arizonans when he promised to abide by term limits and now he has been caught lying again about his time as a Washington lobbyist. Arizonans deserve to know the truth about Flake’s time as a D.C. lobbyist for corporate foreign interests with indisputable ties to South Africa.”

Flake's lobbying past has continued to make headlines in recent weeks following the National Journal story. This includes revelations that Flake had taken details of his past off his official biographies and a Facebook post of his last week touting the experience as an example of his work in the private sector.

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