Nation

Trump-tied lobbyists cash in on their connections

FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2016, file photo, supporters of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hold signs during a campaign rally in Springfield, Ohio. Despite President Donald Trump’s campaign to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and special interests, Washington’s influence industry is alive and well _ and growing. Former members of the Trump transition team, presidential campaign, administration and friends have set up shop as lobbyists and cashed in on connections, according to a new analysis by Public Citizen, a public interest group, and reviewed by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, file)

Evan Vucci/Associated Press/File

Despite President Donald Trump’s campaign to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and special interests, Washington’s influence industry is alive and well. Former members of the Trump transition team, presidential campaign, administration and friends have set up shop as lobbyists and cashed in on connections, according to a new analysis by Public Citizen, a public interest group, and reviewed by the Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — The day after the presidential election, the Washington lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck touted its Republican team’s ‘‘significant relationships . . . with those who will steer the incoming Trump administration.’’ It highlighted Marc Lampkin, managing partner of its Washington office and a Trump fund-raiser.

Such efforts are among the ways lobbyists advertise their connections and ability to influence. One posted a pre-inauguration photo with the president on his firm’s website; another maintained a former campaign title on Facebook; others made sure to stress the backgrounds of their connected staff members online or in press releases.

Advertisement

Despite Donald Trump’s campaign vow to ‘‘drain the swamp’’ of lobbyists and special interests, Washington’s influence industry is alive and well — and growing. Former members of the Trump transition team, presidential campaign, and administration, as well as friends, have set up shop as lobbyists and cashed in on connections, according to a report compiled by Public Citizen, a public interest group, and reviewed by the Associated Press.

Records through Aug. 31 showed at least 44 registered federal lobbyists with ties to Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. These firms have collectively billed nearly $41.8 million to clients — seven of the 10 most lucrative being foreign interests, according to the analysis of federal lobbying disclosure filings.

Get Ground Game in your inbox:
Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Clients have included the owner of a private equity group that received government approval to take over the major for-profit college chain University of Phoenix, and the directors of Wells Fargo, which has faced increased government scrutiny after its workers created bogus accounts for unwitting clients.

Others include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the governments of Afghanistan, Kenya, Iraq, Guatemala, and Malaysia, and Moise Katumbi, the opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

‘‘The message is pretty clear, this is who you need to look out to if you want to influence the Trump administration,’’ said Public Citizen’s Alan Zibel, a former AP journalist who coauthored the report.

Advertisement

In his first interview as president-elect on ‘‘60 Minutes,’’ Trump agreed that lobbyists ‘‘owned politicians’’ because they give them money and said he had done so as a businessman.

‘‘Everybody that works for government, they then leave government and they become a lobbyist, essentially. I mean, the whole place is one big lobbyist,’’ Trump said. ‘‘I’m saying that they know the system right now, but we’re going to phase that out. You have to phase it out.’’

Trump issued an executive order on ethics roughly a week into his term that built on President Barack Obama’s 2009 order. Trump’s order banned executive appointees from lobbying their agencies for five years after leaving office, though not lobbying government as a whole. He also banned appointees from ever working as lobbyists for a foreign government. There was no similar ethics pledge under President George W. Bush.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said the Trump administration has put in place ‘‘historically strong’’ lobbying restrictions for current and former administration staff.

‘‘The White House does not control the actions of private citizens who have never had an official role in the administration,’’ Walters said.

Guidelines for transition team workers to avoid lobbying activities related to their transition work for six months were ignored or ineffectual, according to Public Citizen, which counted 17 individuals who worked for the Trump transition — an effort taxpayers helped fund — yet engaged in lobbying during the first six months. They collectively billed $19.3 million through August.

‘‘They’re making influence and giving access to their friends,’’ said Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for Bush’s administration. ‘‘It’s pay to play,’’ he said, adding that dues for members at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., recently doubled.

The 44 lobbyists with ties to Trump or Pence tabulated by Public Citizen count only those who registered and submitted the required federal disclosures; the total doesn’t include individuals like former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who cofounded a lobbying firm after not receiving a role in the new administration.

Brian Ballard, who worked on Trump’s inaugural committee and was a Florida-based lobbyist for the Trump Organization, opened a Washington office less than two weeks after the inauguration, bringing on board Dan McFaul, who worked for Trump’s transition team, and Susie Wiles, who was Florida’s senior strategist for the Trump campaign.

Ballard said the firm had looked at opening a Washington office for more than a decade and only came because existing clients asked him to.

The firm’s Trump-connected registered lobbyists have billed nearly $5.2 million as of Aug. 31 to foreign and domestic clients, according to lobbying disclosures tallied by Public Citizen.

During Trump’s first full month as president, Ballard Partners was hired by 14 federal lobbying clients including Amazon.com, American Airlines, for-profit prison company GEO Group, and US Sugar Corp., records show.

Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.