Trump’s America is corporate America — what happened to draining the swamp?
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In the pantheon of brazen lies and broken promises from the Trump campaign, right next to “there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid,” is Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE’s pledge to “drain the swamp.” 

To most of us, that phrase means getting rid of corporate lobbyists and special interests who want to benefit the richest in our country at the expense of the most vulnerable. To the Trump White House, on the other hand, “drain the swamp” apparently means stacking government with as many corporate executives and lobbyists as possible, and then attempting to block agencies from handing over standard information about possible conflicts of interest to the Office of Government Ethics, the independent agency that governs ethical concerns within the executive branch. It’s no surprise that the office, led by ethics champion Walter Shaub, has never been busier than under the Trump administration.

Despite Trump leading chants to “drain the swamp,” a recent poll found that less than a quarter of Americans surveyed think he is doing that, while more than 30 percent think he is actually making it worse. The reality is Trump’s Cabinet of billionaires is a swamp filled with corporate conflicts of interest who are filling key agencies such as Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency with lobbyists loyal to the oil and gas industry.

The public deserves to know the names of those who benefited from loopholes and waivers to land these positions, but Trump wants to keep this information secret. This information is critical to revealing the background behind important decisions on issues as fundamental as climate change and clean air. Why else would the Interior Department consider revoking protections for beloved national monuments if not for oil and gas interests pulling the strings behind closed doors? When you put industry shills in charge of the very agencies they used to aggressively oppose, we all pay the price.

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So what does it look like when lobbyists and special interests run the country? At best, these conflicts of interest are subtle favors behind closed doors in the forms of loosened deadlines and softened regulations. At worst, it can have consequences as devastating as BP’s Deepwater Horizon tragedy, which is still impacting local communities today.

 

Revolving doors and ethical violations have long plagued Department of Interior. In the years prior to Deepwater Horizon, Interior’s Mineral Management Service under the Bush administration was mired in criminal and ethical scandals involving cozy relationships with oil and gas industry representatives. Indeed, for many fossil fuel companies, securing handouts and favors from government agencies is a critical part of the business model.

According to a report from The New York Times, the oil and gas industry is celebrating its influence in the Trump administration at the expense of clean air and water. An industry whose products and outdated business model are scientifically proven to cause harm got a lifeline from the White House. Regulatory capture is alive and well; now it's time to find out how deep this goes and begin to reverse the damage. 

The good news is that the people have the power to hold this White House accountable for its brazen conflicts of interest. In March, Greenpeace supporters flooded the Office of Government Ethics with a “record” number of phone calls that made national headlines about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recusal from the Keystone pipeline decision. If people keep this kind of pressure up, the worst offenders could be recused right out of a job.

Desperate oil and gas companies are working hand in hand with the Trump administration to advance a self-serving, corporate agenda. Elected officials must demand transparency on behalf of the American people and follow the lead of the Democratic senators pressuring the White House to release ethics waivers to the Office of Government Ethics.

Walter Shaub and his crew of ethics watchdogs should persist in their mission for transparency and accountability. Whether it’s the Russia investigation or the special interests behind the horrific budget released this week, this administration clearly has something to hide. It’s time to shine a light on the favors Trump doles out to the richest people in this country at the expense of the most vulnerable. 

Annie Leonard is executive director of Greenpeace USA.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.