Lobbyist reportedly under federal investigation over group with ties to former Gov. Jeff Colyer

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
The founder of an advocacy group on Middle East policy with ties to former Gov. Jeff Colyer, a 2022 gubernatorial hopeful, is reportedly under federal investigation for not disclosing the organization's connection to Qatar.

The founder of a Middle Eastern humanitarian group with ties to gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Jeff Colyer is reportedly under federal investigation for not disclosing the organization's connection to the nation of Qatar.

The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating allegations that Barry Bennett, a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump, didn't disclose his ties to the organization Yemen Crisis Watch or register the group under federal lobbying law, as entities representing foreign interests are required to do.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing from Colyer and no sign he is implicated in the federal investigation. In a statement, Colyer said he has "volunteered my time for decades for medical and humanitarian purposes to help those in war zones."

"There is no accusation that I did anything improper here," he said. "I will have nothing further to say on this."

The WSJ cites documents showing Qatar paid Bennett's firm, Avenue Strategies, $3 million between 2017 and 2018 for work that included “a long-term plan to create closer ties between the United States and the State of Qatar.”

The country later gave Avenue Strategies $250,000 "for use in supporting the relief of humanitarian suffering in Yemen,” the paper reported. Bennett shut down Avenue Strategies earlier this year.

The move was allegedly part of a plan to embarrass Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar's then-rivals in the protracted and bloody proxy war in Yemen. While Qatar initially supported a coalition of governments, including the Saudis and Emiratis, who intervened in Yemen against the Houthi rebels, the relationship between the gulf states grew strained in 2017.

A 2017 tweet from Colyer shows the then-lieutenant governor briefing congressional staff on the crisis in Yemen with a Powerpoint presentation bearing the logo of Yemen Crisis Watch. 

Avenue Strategies also made two separate donations totaling $4,000 to Colyer's 2018 campaign for governor. Both donations came on Dec. 18, 2017, just days after he conducted the congressional briefing. The two donations came from separate arms of the lobbying firm, meaning they were allowable under the state's $2,000 contribution limit for partisan primaries.

Colyer later lost in the primary election to then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who in turn was defeated by Gov. Laura Kelly.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it could not confirm or deny the existence of a given investigation, per agency policy.

Colyer wasn't the only prominent public official to back Yemen Crisis Watch's cause. Robert Schuller, a prominent California televangelist, wrote a pair of op-eds in the Washington Examiner espousing the group's viewpoint.

The group was briefly active on Twitter in late 2017, proclaiming to "promote awareness of the atrocities and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen.” It shared Colyer's post regarding the Congressional briefing.

Colyer formerly announced his gubernatorial bid in April, pitting him against Attorney General Derek Schmidt in the GOP primary. He served as governor in 2018 after his predecessor, Gov. Sam Brownback, was nominated by Trump as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.