Saudi-Financed LIV Golf Expands Its Reach Into Washington

LIV Golf, the league financed with billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and facing scrutiny over its motives and ambitions, has hired one of Washington’s most influential consulting conglomerates, whose co-founder works with a super PAC supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

The league, whose close links to former President Donald J. Trump have helped bring LIV both a greater spotlight and a storm of condemnation, said Friday that it had reached an agreement with the conglomerate, GP3 Partners, to promote “LIV Golf’s mission to modernize and supercharge” golf.

The deal with GP3, whose partners include Phil Cox, a co-founder of the firm and a current adviser to the Never Back Down super PAC supporting Mr. DeSantis, gives the league a far greater foothold in Washington at a time when the Justice Department is examining men’s professional golf and Saudi Arabia is a subject of bipartisan criticisms.

Mr. Cox is among the GP3 consultants who will be working on the account, a person familiar with the arrangement said. Mr. Cox did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for the Never Back Down super PAC, said in a statement, “Phil Cox has always been an unpaid advisor to Never Back Down and none of his businesses are paid by the PAC. Phil was a previous advisor to Governor DeSantis and as such provides valuable insight to Never Back Down. Because of that there is no conflict here with his outside businesses.”

Mr. Cox helped run Mr. DeSantis’s successful re-election effort in 2022, a victory that was one of the few bright spots for Republicans nationally. Since then, he has been involved with the super PAC supporting Mr. DeSantis that was created earlier this year. The governor is expected to announce a run for the White House in the coming weeks.

While Mr. Trump is the most visible Republican figure to work with LIV, he is far from the only one to do so.

Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, has aided the league with its communications strategy. Benjamin Quayle, a former Republican congressman and a son of a former vice president, has lobbied for the league, and a small firm led by Andrew McKenna, who also worked in Mr. Bush’s administration, has had a significant role advising LIV.

LIV executives have sought to direct greater attention to the athletic exploits of the league’s players — Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson tied for second place at last month’s Masters Tournament — but the circuit has struggled to outrun the perceptions that have accompanied its dependence on Saudi money.

Some of its events have drawn protests, and the league’s insistence that it wants nothing more than to electrify golf has been met with skepticism, with some critics pointedly viewing the league as a vessel for Saudi Arabia to try to repair its reputation.

In turn, the LIV prizes and contracts that are some of the richest in the sport’s history have come with bombardments of criticism toward golfers, many of whom have played down or refused to discuss Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. GP3’s hiring reflects an intensified effort to reshape opinions of the league, which has drawn modest crowds in the United States and has only a limited television contract.

At the same time, the firm’s agreement with LIV expands the league’s ties into some of the highest reaches of Republican politics. Mr. Trump’s company has helped stage two LIV tournaments, and Trump properties are scheduled to host three more events this year.

The former president’s relationship with LIV has attracted the attention of the Justice Department. It subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records about Mr. Trump’s dealings with the golf league in connection with the investigation into whether Mr. Trump mishandled classified material that he kept at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, after his presidency ended.

Mr. Trump has made little secret of the dealings with the golf circuit: He has played in pro-am events at LIV tournaments and has been unstinting in his defense of the series and his family’s decision to welcome it to their properties.

In an interview at a LIV event last October, Mr. Trump said the Saudis’ interest in golf was “very important to them” and that “they’re putting a lot of effort into it and a lot of money into it.”

Pressed on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, the former president replied, “We have human rights issues in this country, too.”

LIV and the Trump Organization have not publicly detailed the financial terms of their arrangements.

As president, Mr. Trump came under criticism for appearing dismissive of what intelligence agencies said was a murder by Saudi agents of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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