March 29, 2019
Since President Trump took office, visiting and spending money at his properties—especially his Washington, DC hotel—has emerged as an apparent influence strategy. It comes as no surprise that special interests may see this patronage as an appeal to the president, given that he has continued to promote his businesses while in office.
Clients of lobbying firm Ballard Partners seem to be hosting events at Trump properties especially often. Ballard is known for being close to the Trump administration, and it has become a top firm for special interests seeking access to the president.
At the very least, the fact that their clients keep holding events at Trump properties provides more evidence that patronizing Trump’s properties correlates with trying to influence him on policy. It also raises the possibility that lobbyists who are close to Trump view spending money at his properties as an effective influence tactic, and promote it as one to their clients.
Earlier this month, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES), an energy interest and political group, hosted a reception at Trump International Hotel – Washington, DC. The gathering accompanied a “fly-in” that brought 56 state advocates to the Hill to meet with Members of Congress. EPA and Department of Energy staffers stopped by the hotel to talk energy with the fly-in attendees, who stayed at the hotel, too.
CRES marks the third Ballard client known to have patronized a Trump property since Trump became president. A fourth client is closely tied to another group that had an event at Trump’s DC hotel.
The first example goes back to Trump’s first year in office. Ballard Partners registered to lobby on behalf of private prison contractor GEO Group less than a month after President Trump’s inauguration. Early in his administration, GEO Group was awarded a $110 million contract to build an immigration detention center in Texas.
A few months later, the company moved its annual leadership conference to Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami. The previous year, the company held both its leadership conference and shareholder meeting at a club near its headquarters in Boca Raton. Around the same time as the conference at Trump’s golf club, ICE issued a Request for Information about potential sites for new detention centers in the Midwest. It was later revealed through FOIA that GEO Group submitted two proposals in response to ICE’s request.
This January, just a few months after Ballard began representing the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Nigeria, then-Nigerian PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar and his entourage stayed at Trump’s DC hotel. According to public reports, the trip to the U.S. signaled the temporary lifting of a travel ban that had been in place for roughly a decade under a State Department rule.
Prior to Abubakar’s visit, his lobbyists worked to set up a meeting with a Trump administration official in the State Department. When he arrived in Washington, DC, Abubakar checked into the Trump hotel.
Nigeria is not the first of Ballard’s international clients to visit Trump’s DC hotel. Shortly after Turkey made a deal with Ballard, prominent Turkish officials attended an annual conference at the hotel. The conference was co-hosted by the Turkey-U.S. Business Council, a group with close ties to the Turkish government. The event will be held at the hotel again next month, and H.E. Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Minister of Finance and Treasury, who is also the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is slated to speak.
On the agenda for this year’s conference is a discussion of the “impacts of the recent steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration,” as well as a panel discussing economic investment in Turkey, a topic that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner discussed with Erdogan and Albayrak during his visit to Ankara last month.
The firm’s founder Brian Ballard has a longstanding relationship with President Trump that has attracted a mix of high-profile companies and foreign leaders. A Florida lobbying powerhouse for decades, Ballard represented the Trump Organization on and off for years and then became a top fundraiser for Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Special interests and foreign governments alike have flocked to the Trump-connected firm since Ballard opened up shop in DC. Ballard himself maintains a personal relationship with Donald Trump and is adept at helping clients “map out who’s really calling the shots in Trump’s administration.”
He is not the only Ballard Partners employee with ties to the White House. The firm recently hired former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who served as a member of Trump’s transition team, and former White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah.
Ballard Partners’ continuing success attracting new clients may continue to coincide with more business for the president. Just days after Ballard registered Zimbabwe as a client, an economist at the Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance was spotted at the Trump Hotel in DC. As Ballard signs more clients wishing to influence policy in the Trump Administration, we will see if the trend continues.