Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's law firm has lobbied for years on behalf of an oil company controlled by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, a strident critic of President Bush and American-style capitalism.
Bracewell & Giuliani, the Houston-based firm that Giuliani joined as a name partner two years ago, handles lobbying in the Texas Statehouse for Citgo Petroleum Corp. of Houston. Citgo is the American subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil company that Chavez controls.
Giuliani's duties at his law firm do not include lobbying. But the financial relationship with a company affiliated with one of the most outspoken critics of the United States potentially exposes Giuliani to new scrutiny as he campaigns to become the Republican nominee for president.
Chavez has used his country's oil wealth to lure fellow Latin American leaders away from alliances with the United States. In recent years, he has called Bush a "donkey," a "drunkard" and a "coward," blamed him for a 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela and allied himself with Fidel Castro.
The Giuliani campaign declined to answer questions yesterday about the client but issued a brief statement after a report about the relationship was posted by Bloomberg News, which said the firm was paid about $5,000 a month for the work in 2005 and 2006.
"Mayor Giuliani believes Hugo Chavez is not a friend of the United States and his influence continues to grow because of our increasing reliance on foreign sources of oil," the statement said. "As the mayor has consistently stated - the development of alternative fuels is a priority that demands a solution in order to ensure the United States energy independence."
The Citgo lobbying contract represents the first time that a client of one of Giuliani's private businesses has become an issue for his nascent campaign. The campaign had previously acknowledged that his clients might be used against him in the heat of a primary contest.
Just last week, Giuliani announced an agreement to sell his boutique investment bank to an Australian company, based in part, his aides said, on his desire to avoid any political problems. He still controls two consulting businesses.
The episode with the Venezuelan oil company is reminiscent of an issue that surfaced early in Giuliani's first mayoral campaign, in 1989, when it was reported that his law firm at the time had represented the government of Panama under Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.
Giuliani has not released a complete list of his clients, or the organizations that paid him for speeches. He has not yet been required to file a financial disclosures form, and the disclosure about the Citgo work emerged from filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.
David McCollum, a Citgo spokesman, said the company uses another firm to lobby the federal government. Bracewell & Patterson, the firm's name before Giuliani became a partner, had lobbied the Texas government for Citgo on tax, environmental and permitting issues since 2003.
"He really has no involvement with us at all personally," McCollum said. "The folks we're using are here in Texas."