Senate panel tees up new hearing on PGA-LIV Golf deal

The Senate investigations subcommittee will hold a hearing next Wednesday on concerns over the pending deal between the Saudi-backed LIV Golf and the PGA Tour.

The hearing, announced on Wednesday, will be the committee’s second regarding the controversial acquisition of the PGA Tour by LIV Golf, which is owned by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Next week’s hearing appears set to focus more broadly on the PIF’s investments in the U.S. But PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan once again denied a request to testify before the subcommittee.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the subcommittee chairman, has repeatedly asked Al-Rumayyan to testify before the committee since June, when the two entities shocked the golf world by announcing an agreement to form a new golf monolith along with the European DP World Tour. 

The PIF has repeatedly dodged those requests. 

In a letter dated Aug. 16, Blumenthal once again asked the PIF governor to testify before the committee on Sept. 13 or propose an alternate date.

Akin Gump Strauss & Feld, the firm legally representing PIF, declined on behalf of its client on Aug. 23 in a letter first reported by POLITICO.

“The PIF is proud of its investments, and believes that its support for forward-thinking companies will facilitate growth, economic opportunity, and job creation in the United States, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and around the world,” wrote Akin Gump partner Raphael Prober in the letter.

“As the governor of an instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a minister bound by the Kingdom’s laws regarding the confidentiality of certain information, however, [Al-Rumayyan] cannot participate in any public hearing that is part of an unbounded inquiry into the PIF’s past, present, and future interests and investments.”

Spokespersons for Blumenthal, the PIF and Akin Gump did not immediately reply to requests for comment from The Hill.

The golf giants released a framework for the deal in June. The parties have until Dec. 31 to finalize a deal, although they may agree to extend the deadline.

The potential deal ended ongoing antitrust litigation between the parties but invited scrutiny from some Senate Democrats who promptly called two PGA Tour executives into the hot seat.

PGA Tour Chief Operating Officer Ron Price and board member Jimmy Dunne, who played key roles in brokering the truce between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, appeared before the subcommittee in July. 

At that hearing, Blumenthal grilled PGA Tour leadership over the decision to accept money from Saudi Arabia after the Tour lobbied extensively against LIV Golf for more than a year. 

“Today’s hearing is about much more than the game of golf,” Blumenthal said during his opening remarks in July. “It’s about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence — indeed even take over a cherished American institution — to cleanse its public image.”

While Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) said he was also concerned with “sportswashing” by the Saudi government in the July hearing, he said repeatedly that the deal seemed to be a “win-win” for both entities.

The deal has raised questions about the scope of the PIF and LIV Golf’s influence in the U.S. 

Akin Gump is not registered to lobby on behalf of PIF, for example. The firm argues they are exempt under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) as the organization’s legal representative. The letter was filed with the Department of Justice by Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a law and lobbying firm registered under FARA on behalf of the PIF.

While PGA Tour lobbyists previously decried the rising Saudi influence in the game of golf to anyone who would listen, the entity is now spending record sums to smooth over the sticking points of the deal.

The PGA Tour spent a record $460,000 on federal lobbying in the first six months of 2023, more than the $450,000 it spent on lobbying in all of 2022, according to federal lobbying disclosures analyzed by the money-in-politics tracking nonprofit OpenSecrets.

Lobbyists reported work on issues related to oversight of the proposed deal, legislation affecting tax-exempt organizations and the professional sports industry on behalf of the golf giant during the second quarter of 2023, when the merger was announced, according to federal lobbying disclosures analyzed by The Hill.

Tags LIV Golf LIV golf PGA Tour PGA Tour public investment fund public investment fund Richard Blumenthal Richard Blumenthal Richard Blumenthal Ron Johnson Ron Johnson