A Portland political consultant who has worked on U.S. Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, and ran for a state Senate seat in 2018, has been hired by an Iowa firm representing the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

Crystal Canney of Portland, who previously worked for U.S. Sen. Angus King, was hired by the Larson Shannahan Slifka Group, according to a disclosure form filed with the U.S. Department of Justice as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

Crystal Canney Courtesy Crystal Canney

The form says that Canney will “provide strategic and government affairs advice, public relations and communications advice and services, outreach and engagement with the public and media groups, and oversight of other consultants” and that her activities “will include informing government officials and the media about the importance of fostering and promoting relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The Iowa firm, better known as LS2Group, previously hired another Mainer, Kathie Summers Grice of Cumberland, a longtime Republican operative who ran the congressional campaign of Kevin Raye, former chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe. Her disclosure form, filed last December, includes identical language about fostering relations between the U.S. and the oil-rich Middle East nation.

Canney declined to comment about the nature of her work and referred questions to the LS2Group. Summers Grice also referred any comments to LS2Group. No one from that firm returned calls or emails from a Portland Press Herald reporter Tuesday.

Summers Grice is being paid $10,000 per month for her work, according to her filing. Canney’s salary was not included on her form.

The Des Moines Register reported last year that LS2Group signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Saudi embassy. Although the contract states that the consulting firm cannot publicly disclose its work without the embassy’s permission, it clearly was hired to help rebuild the nation’s image following the October 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose death was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the CIA concluded.

LS2Group was founded in 2009 by Chuck Larson Jr. and Karen Slifka, both of whom have long histories in Republican politics.

The hiring of Canney and Summers Grice, given their respective connections, could be aimed at lobbying Maine’s two senators, King and Susan Collins, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which often receives briefings about foreign diplomacy.

King has been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia. Last fall, he visited the country as part of a congressional delegation to the Middle East and pressed the crown prince about Khashoggi’s killing. In an op-ed he wrote with U.S. Sen. Todd Young of Indiana after he returned, King referred to Saudi Arabia as “an important strategic partner, but not one we will support at any cost.”

“We have been vocal critics of Saudi Arabia’s recent unacceptable behavior, and entered this conversation with open minds but skeptical ears,” they wrote. “Saudi Arabia remains a nation of contradictions, with progress on some important issues matched by significant shortfalls on others.”

King’s office declined to comment on LS2Group’s hiring of Canney.

In addition to working on King’s 2012 Senate campaign, Canney was the spokeswoman for the 2014 gubernatorial campaign of independent Eliot Cutler. She ran for a state Senate seat in 2018 as an independent but lost to the incumbent, Democrat Ben Chipman. Before becoming a public relations and political consultant, Canney was a television news reporter.

Summers Grice doesn’t have a clear connection to either King or Collins but has been involved in Maine Republican politics for more than two decades and worked in the U.S. Labor Department under former President George W. Bush. She is the president and CEO of Eaton River Strategies in Manchester.

Collins’ spokeswoman, Annie Clark, said neither Summers Grice or Canney have lobbied the senator on Saudi Arabia.


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