Former Trump campaign aides set up foreign lobbying firm
Watchdog: Trump-tied lobbyists linked to $42M in lobbying in 2017
Dozens of lobbyists are using their connections to president trump and Vice President Pence to start new firms or expand existing ones, according to a new government watchdog report.
Public Citizen found 44 active lobbyists with ties to Trump or Pence who have contributed nearly $42 million in lobbying revenue and spending through the first half of 2017. The group released its findings in a 58-page report Thursday.
The figure represents the lobbying fees for those working at K Street shops, in addition to the advocacy spending by organizations where the administration-linked lobbyists work in-house.
"In reality, instead of presaging a crackdown on lobbyists, Trump's election spelled opportunity for them. Those with ties to Trump raced to engage in the same behavior that Trump decried on the campaign trail: cashing in on insider connections," the report reads.
In the first six months of this year, roughly 17 registered lobbyists who had worked on the Trump transition resumed lobbying after leaving the operation - despite an uproar that led several lobbyists to step down instead of severing ties with clients, according to the report. Some quickly returned to working on issues they had dealt with during the transition.
"The Trump transition team's pledge called for lobbyists who remained with the team to have filed forms with 'the appropriate government agency to terminate' lobbying relationships," Public Citizen said.
"On at least five occasions, lobbying firms listed names of transition team members who were 'no longer expected to act as a lobbyist for the client' in forms covering the latter part of 2016. In three cases, the transition officials lobbied for the same firms in the first quarter of 2017. In two cases, the transition officials resumed lobbying for same firm in the second quarter of 2017."
The report also says only four of the 36 former lobbyists who now work in the administration - on issues they did in the private sector - received a waiver that allows them to sidestep ethics rules.
Waivers are often given out if the person's knowledge overwhelmingly exceeds any concerns about conflicts of interest, and many can still contain restrictions on what an official may or may not work on.
And despite Trump putting a particular focus on cracking down on lobbying for foreign interests during the early days of his administration, seven of the 10 highest-dollar contracts belong to those with foreign governments and interests.
So far this year, Public Citizen calculated that 11 firms tied to either Trump or Pence have brought in $9.5 million in fees from foreign clients.
One particular example is Avenue Strategies Global, which boasts multiple Trump campaign alums, recently had its monthly fees to represent Qatar go from $150,000 per month to $500,000 per month, according to forms the firm submitted to the Justice Department.
Trump campaigned on a pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington, a term that has been used by politicians of both parties, and released a plan that included banning executive branch officials from lobbying the government for five years after they leave government.
Trump also promised to ban senior government officials from lobbying on behalf of a foreign government and closing the loopholes that allows some people to forgo officially registering as a lobbyist.
The plan even took aim at placing new restrictions on those who leave Capitol Hill, which requires Congress to act.
After Trump took office in January, he signed an executive order that allows those who leave the administration to lobby the government, except the agency in which they worked; permits lobbyists to enter the administration as long as they don't work on specific issues - or items that would affect former clients or employers - for two years; and bans political appointees from lobbying for a foreign government after leaving public service.
"Most of Trump's critics undoubtedly believed that the 'drain the swamp' rhetoric he adopted at the end of the campaign was nothing more than an empty campaign promise. But Trump's voters clearly believed him. If nothing else, the events that have occurred since then justify the sort of public cynicism that would explain why a pledge to 'drain the swamp' might resonate," the Public Citizen report concluded.