In the final months of his campaign, President Trump made “draining the swamp” an essential part of his electoral narrative. The campaign used this slogan as a metaphor for his promise to eliminate the circle of Washington, D.C. lobbyists and special interests that supposedly dominate the policy discussion in our nation’s capital.[i] The push to “drain the swamp” included a five-year ban for executive branch appointees lobbying the federal agency in which they served and a lifetime ban on appointees lobbying for foreign governments – provisions which were included in the executive order President Trump issued on ethics early in his term.[ii]
President Trump’s executive order, however, also removed a number of lobbying restrictions that President Obama had put in place. First, the Trump order removes the restriction barring lobbyists from taking administration jobs with any agency that they had lobbied in the previous two years.[iii] The Trump order still prevents lobbyists who join the administration from specifically working for two years on matters on which they had previously lobbied without a waiver, but the waivers do not have to be released to the public, as they were under President Obama.[iv] These new loopholes have opened new avenues for lobbyists to influence policy. An industry lobbyist can now immediately begin a job at the regulatory agency designed to oversee his former clients and with an undisclosed waiver can work on the very same matters on which he lobbied without any public scrutiny.
President Trump’s actions upon taking office also demonstrate – despite the tough campaign rhetoric attacking Washington, D.C.’s “revolving door” – not only an unwillingness to take on special interests, but a continued expansion of the influence of lobbyists on his administration. For example, President Trump is expected to select Andrew Wheeler as the deputy chief of the Environmental Protection Agency.[v] Mr. Wheeler is currently a registered lobbyist for Murray Energy, the largest privately owned coal company in the United States, and works on several energy and agricultural-related issues for other clients.[vi] While Mr. Wheeler would have to get a waiver from President Trump’s lobbying restrictions to work at the EPA on particular matters on which he previously lobbied, any waiver would not have to be released to the general public.[vii] Mike Catanzaro, another energy lobbyist whose clients included natural gas and fossil fuel companies, will serve as a special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy.[viii] Even the president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics, an industry trade group, expressed his belief that the Trump administration’s regulations on lobbyists are mostly for show.[ix] Meanwhile, the list of lobbyists who are receiving positions in the administration continues to grow. Geoff Burr, a former construction industry lobbyist, will likely become the chief of staff to the future Secretary of Labor;[x] Chad Wolf, a lobbyist for numerous defense and security contractors, is serving as an advisor to the Transportation Security Administration; and numerous health care and insurance lobbyists have joined the Department of Health and Human Services.[xi]
The Trump administration has already demonstrated its willingness to waive its own five-year lobbying ban for former officials. In April 2017, senior White House budget adviser Marcus Peacock left his position to join the Business Roundtable, a high-profile pro-business lobbying group chaired by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Lobbying the Office of Management and Budget for the group would have violated the five-year ban, but the Trump administration helpfully waived the ban.[xii] While Mr. Peacock will recuse himself from lobbying his former administration colleagues at OMB for six months, this short wait is far less than the original five-year ban President Trump has so vocally touted.[xiii]
President Trump’s claimed efforts to drain the swamp of lobbyists also are undercut by his own former campaign aides setting up shop as lobbyists who market themselves as having special access to the president. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was one of the first to signal this trend. Mr. Lewandowski opened a new lobbying firm in late December 2016 and reported that it had relationships with eleven clients by January 2017 – with the firm’s business pitch appearing to be based on helping firms navigate the Trump administration’s agenda.[xiv] The firm is also engaged in setting up a pro-Trump super PAC designed to build grassroots support for a pro-Trump agenda.[xv]
These examples demonstrate that President Trump has abjectly failed to “drain the swamp.” To the contrary, he has repeatedly turned to industry insiders and lobbyists to advise him, and former aides are taking advantage of their access to the president and the administration to lobby for special interests.
[i] Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, and Daniel Lippman, Will ‘drain the swamp’ be Trump’s first broken promise?, Politico, Dec. 22, 2016, available at http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/trump-drain-swamp-promise-232938.
[ii] Press Release, Executive Order: Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees, Jan. 28, 2017, available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/28/executive-order-ethics-commitments-executive-branch-appointees.
[iii] Executive Order 13490, Jan. 21, 2009, available at https://oge.gov/Web/OGE.nsf/Executive%20Orders/A70F962587DAC28F85257E96006A90F2/$FILE/23a5e4eeaffd4e14b4387b40b0eae5963.pdf?open; see also Isaac Arnsdorf, Trump lobbying ban weakens Obama rules, Politico, Jan., 28, 2017, available at http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/trump-lobbying-ban-weakens-obama-ethics-rules-234318.
[v] Andrew Restuccia, Alex Guillén, and Anthony Adragna, Sources: Trump expected to tap Wheeler as EPA deputy, Politico, Mar. 16, 2017, available at http://www.politico.com/story/2017/03/andrew-wheeler-epa-deputy-sources-236151.
[viii] Megan R. Wilson, Lobbyists finding spots in Trump administration, The Hill, Mar. 15, 2017, available at http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/324195-more-lobbyists-finding-spots-in-trump-administration.
[ix] Maggie Severns and Isaac Arnsdorf, The Trump lobbying purge that wasn’t, Politico, Jan. 18, 2017, available at http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/trump-administration-lobbying-purge-233736.
[x] Wilson, The Hill, Mar. 15, 2017.
[xi] Justin Elliott, Derek Kravitz, and Al Shaw, Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government, ProPublica, March 8, 2017, available at https://www.propublica.org/article/meet-hundreds-of-officials-trump-has-quietly-installed-across-government.
[xii] Ben Brody, Senior White House Adviser Departs for Business Lobby Group, Bloomberg, April 12, 2017, available at https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-04-12/senior-white-house-adviser-departs-for-business-lobbying-group.
[xiv] Joshua Green, Trump’s K Street Office Is Open for Business, Bloomberg, Jan. 19, 2017, available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-19/trump-s-k-street-office-is-open-for-business.