Confidential records leaked from ex-double-dipping Collier deputy manager's office
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct attribution of quotes by representatives of Sean Callahan's former employer, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
Former Collier County Deputy Manager Sean Callahan apparently left "confidential" records relating to foreign governments behind after his firing from the county last month.
The records, discovered in his county government office, were related to his second, secret lobbyist job with the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. The Naples Daily News obtained the records in response to a public records request.
An expert on U.S. foreign lobbyist affairs also says Callahan's client caseload was significant, adding doubt that he could have possibly fulfilled his duties for both his county and secret lobbyist role at the same time.
The records he left behind appear to be drafts of memos Callahan was planning on sending to, and on behalf of, his foreign lobbyist clients, including South Korea, Cambodia, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat senator representing Illinois.
He was keeping these lobbying records in a box inside his county office. The county was unwilling to provide more details when asked over the phone.
Callahan was fired last month, effective Jan. 23, after County Manager Mark Isackson found out he had failed to disclose he has been working a second job since at least March 2021, before he was promoted to the deputy manager role.
Callahan was fired from the county and then resigned from his second job
A few days after the Naples Daily News reported on the firing, Callahan resigned from Brownstein.
Brownstein public information officer Lara Day told the Naples Daily News that the firm had no idea Callahan was still employed by the county. Last year, Brownstein brought in $56.3 million in lobbying revenue, more than any other firm on record, according to The Hill.
According to Brownstein, the records given to the Naples Daily News are confidential and Collier County Government should not have released them.
The records were released in response to a public records request because they were found in his county office, the county says.
The records have handwritten notes; however, the county is unable to confirm whose handwriting it is.
The public records request
On Jan. 27, the Naples Daily News filed a public records request with the county for emails or memos within the county's possession that included the keyword: "Brownstein".
On Feb. 7, the county produced 19 records.
"These were hard copy documents found in cleaning out his office. We can not confirm/deny it's his handwriting," the county's public information office wrote in an email.
The records appear to be related to Callahan's work as a lobbyist for Brownstein, in the form of drafted memos he was planning on sending to some of his foreign clients last year.
The dates on the memos appear to line up with dates when Callahan was not on any authorized leave of absence, and when he was supposed to be working as acting county manager.
He took on the county manager role during Isackson's two-month-long absence while he recovered from a serious case of COVID-19. Isackson has since announced his plans to retire in July due to his struggle with post-COVID conditions.
Day and Katrin Rothgery, Brownstein's conflicts and ethics attorney, responded via phone call to an email sent by a Naples Daily News reporter.
"We just wanted to stress that that is confidential information," Day said.
Rothgery added, "By phone, we're gonna follow up with the county... We're going to figure out what we need to do in terms of getting that information back from the county and making sure that it's not disclosed ...
"I don't think that it should have been disclosed in response to a public records request, given that it's not a county record. And we would strenuously object to any leak of it. It belongs to us, and it really belongs to our clients"
Callahan has not responded to repeated attempts to reach him by phone, email, and in-person at his Naples home.
Expert weighs in
By the end of 2021, records show Callahan was lobbying for at least eight foreign clients, according to filings required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), submitted to the Department of Justice:
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
- Royal Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia
- Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
- Embassy of the Republic of Korea
- Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry
- Liberian Maritime Authority
- Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
- Embassy of Morocco
FARA, enacted in 1938, requires “agents” of “foreign principals” to register with the DOJ and to file periodic reports regarding their work. Firms representing foreign corporations or individuals in the U.S and/or taking direction from them in their representation of U.S. affiliates fall within FARA's reach.
"The list [of Callahan's foreign clients] is kind of a who's who of dictators around the world," Dr. Ben Freeman, a Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told the Naples Daily News.
Freeman, the former director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy and an expert on how foreign governments influence U.S. public policy and elections, said that while lobbyists do not usually work alone, they still have a huge workload when they take on any foreign client.
"Firms like Brownstein have their lobbyists work on teams. They have multiple lobbyists working on these accounts, so they can get maximum impact," Freeman said. "The team is going to have regular engagements about the work that they're doing on behalf of these foreign clients and make sure they're covering all the bases."
Records show that Callaghan also registered with at least 19 non-foreign clients last year. Secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the DOJ, show that Callahan worked with as few a one to as many as a dozen other Brownstein lobbyists last year on each client.Disclosures filed with the
He noted how unique it is to see a lobbyist with so many foreign clients claiming residency anywhere outside Washington D.C.
"That is astonishing right there because according to his own FARA filings, he's doing a lot of work for these clients. So I don't understand on a basic level, how he would have the time for any sort of position in South Florida to fulfill any of that work if he's really working for all these foreign clients," he said.
Connect with reporter Rachel Heimann Mercader: racheyy_marie (Twitter) or email@example.com