Donald Trump promised last year to “Drain the Swamp” of Washington, starting with barring people who worked on his Presidential Transition from Lobbying for six months afterward.
But three months after Trump moved into the White House, at least nine people who worked on his Transition have Registered as Lobbyists, highlighting holes in the President’s Pledge to keep people from Cashing in on Government Service.
Many are registered to Lobby the same Agencies or on the same Issues they worked on during the Transition, a review of Lobbying Disclosures found. A former "Sherpa" who helped to guide Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos through the Senate Confirmation process is now Registered to Lobby her Department. The former Head of the Transition's Tax Policy Team has returned to his old company to Lobby Congress on Tax Reform. One Ex-Member of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Team is now Registered as part of a Team Lobbying on behalf of a Major Steelmaker.
Because of the way the Transition’s six-month Lobbying Ban was worded, the former Staffers may not be Violating it. Regardless, their trips from Lobbying to Government Service and back run counter to Trump's Campaign Promise to close Washington’s Revolving door.
They also raise questions about how rigorously the White House will enforce a separate Five-Year Lobbying Ban that applies to those serving in the Administration. At least two officials who briefly served in the Trump Administration and then left, Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser, and Robert Wasinger, who worked in the State Department and is now a Lobbyist, have said they did not Sign a Five-Year Ban.
“This is more evidence of the ethical vacuum in the Trump White House,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen, a Nonprofit Government Ethics Watchdog. “These revolving-door-esque actions mock everything candidate Trump said about draining the swamp and ending corporate corruption and inside dealing in Washington, D.C.”
Transition officials had presented the Lobbying Ban as an essential part of Trump’s pledge to Drain the Swamp. "The key thing for this administration is going to be that people going out of government won't be able to use that service to enrich themselves," Sean Spicer, now the White House Press Secretary, said when he announced the Ban in November. But it hasn’t prevented former Transition Staffers from going to K Street within Weeks of Leaving.
The Transition’s Ethics Code forbids Staffers from Lobbying on “a particular matter for which I had direct and substantial responsibility” while working on the Transition. That means a Staffer working on Tax Policy, for instance, might not be banned from Lobbying on all Tax issues, only the specific areas of Tax Policy for which the Staffer was responsible. Those details mean it’s difficult to track whether former Staffers are following the Rules.
“Unless we know the division of responsibility of the particular members of the transition team, I don’t know how this would be enforced, other than voluntarily,” said Kathleen Clark, a Washington University Law Professor who is an Expert in Government Ethics Law.
The White House referred questions to the Transition Team, which still employs a small group of people. “We have no reason to believe nor has the Transition been presented with any evidence that any individual who signed the six-month agreement as part of his or her service with the Transition is in non-compliance,” Ken Nahigian, the Transition’s Executive Director, said in a statement, adding that the Transition is “Open to Receiving” any evidence that does exist.
The six-month Ban appears to have been haphazardly implemented. Three former Transition Staffers said they never signed a Pledge. One former Transition official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no process in place to ensure Staffers Signed the Document. Others determined they could go back to Lobbying without Violating the Pledge.
Scott Mason, a former Lobbyist who worked as Director of Congressional Relations on the Transition, wrote in an email that he never signed the Ban, which he recalled had been "Limited to those Engaged in 'substantive' Policy Matters." "While I had Hill meetings with policy staff, my role was not writing policy," said Mason, who joined Holland & Knight in January and has signed 10 clients.
Ado Machida led the Transition’s Policy Implementation Team, helping to Draft the Executive orders that Trump started Signing after he took office. He agreed to the Ban, and he said all the other Transition Staffers he knew of did, too. Machida, who hadn't been Registered to Lobby since 2010, joined the Lobbying firm Navigators Global immediately after leaving the Transition. He's Registered seven Clients, lobbying the White House, and Congress on behalf of Companies such as AT&T and Oracle. He said he doesn't believe he's Violating the Lobbying Ban because he didn’t develop Policy for a Particular Agency.
At least four former Transition Staffers De-Registered as Lobbyists late last year, only to Re-Register as soon as they left. All of them are now Registered to Lobby the same Agencies they served or on the same issues they worked on.
Lauren Maddox, the DeVos Sherpa, Re-Registered as a Lobbyist for the Podesta Group days after Trump was sworn into office. On Feb. 6th, she signed as a Client the Charlotte School of Law, a troubled for-Profit Law School that has been fighting for survival since the Obama Administration cut off its Access to Federal student Loans in December. The School hired Maddox and two other Podesta Group Lobbyists to persuade DeVos' Education Department to restore its Access to Loans. They appear to be having some success. The School reapplied for Access to Federal Student Aid in March "at the Direct Suggestion" of a Top Education Department official, according to a letter from the School. Maddox is also Registered to Lobby the Education Department on behalf of two other Education-Related Clients, according to Disclosure filings.
Other lobbyists who Re-Registered after exiting the Transition include Jim Carter, who led the Transition's Tax Policy Team before Re-Registering to Lobby on Tax Reform; Nova Daly, who worked for the Transition's Team at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative before he Re-Registered as part of a Team of people who have Lobbied the Agency, the White House, and Congress on behalf of the Steelmaker Nucor; and Tara Bradshaw, an Ernst & Young Lobbyist who worked during the Transition with Steven Mnuchin, now Trump's Treasury Secretary. Bradshaw is now Registered to Lobby Congress and the Treasury Department on Tax Reform and Health Care for MetLife, according to Disclosure Filings. She’s also Lobbying Congress for other Clients on an array of other Tax and Financial matters.
Some ex-Staffers who Headed to K Street appear to be working on issues that do not overlap with their Transition work.
John Sweeney, a former New York Congressman, worked on the Transition's Executive Committee, pulling 15-hour days in Trump Tower interviewing hundreds of potential Administration Hires. Sweeney said he was never asked to sign the Lobbying Ban. After his work on the Transition was over, he Registered to Lobby the White House for three Clients, including Comcast and Shell Oil Co. While some of the people he interviewed months ago now work in the Administration, Sweeney said he hasn't had reason to reach out to any of them on behalf of his Clients. "I really have not called anybody I interviewed,".
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