Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Washington Revolving Door: Can Trump Employees Find Lobbying Jobs?

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Just after Donald trump entered the White House in 2017 with a promise to “drain the swamp,” he attempted to close the revolving door between the US government and the lobbying industry.

Mr Trump demanded that any incoming member of his administration sign a pledge not to lobby for at least five years after leaving public service.

But at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, the outgoing president revoked Executive Order 13770, which imposed the mandate, with the stroke of a pen, in one of his last acts before leaving the White House.

In theory, the move should make it easier for members of his administration to find new jobs on K Street in Washington, the epicenter of the $ 3.5 billion-a-year lobbying industry.

But some observers say the job prospects for members of the Trump team remain bleak now that Joe biden is in the White House, especially since Democrats also have a majority in Congress and control the Senate by the tiniest of margins.

Ethics and politics expert Meredith McGehee said their chances of finding a new job had diminished further since the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol this month – especially after numerous political action committees company have moved away from Republican efforts to block certification of Mr. Biden’s election.

“I think that means the job prospects for people coming out of the Trump administration are pretty much in the bathroom right now,” said Ms. McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a nonprofit that attempts to reduce the role of money in politics.

Mr. Trump’s decision to revoke the ban is not without precedent; Bill Clinton also lifted a similar restriction in his last few weeks in office. But it sparked accusations of hypocrisy given that Mr. Trump campaigned so hard to empty what he described as Washington’s deep reservoir of corruption.

A person close to the ex-president said he was surprised that Mr Trump had revoked the order and suggested he was supported by members of his orbit who were desperately looking for an airstrip after leaving the government.

“Some people clearly needed it and thought it made sense and got it at a low time,” the person said.

Still, Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, which monitors business-government ties, said lifting the ban would make very little difference in practice for some of those looking for new jobs.

The majority of Mr. Trump’s political appointments fell into three categories, Hauser said.

The first group were the “elite Republicans” who had worked under Steven Mnuchin at the US Treasury, Jay Clayton at the SEC and Brian Brooks at the office of the Comptroller of the Currency. These people would likely land on their feet, given that their bosses had succeeded in isolating their reputations from Mr. Trump’s taint, he said.

The second group was made up of people who would never have found government jobs without the “unique status” of the Trump administration, which hired an eclectic group to fill political roles. The Agriculture Department, for example, hired a long-haul truck driver and someone who served drinks at a country club. Their prospects on K Street are virtually nonexistent, Mr Hauser said.

But it’s the third group that might be the most disappointed, according to Hauser: staff members with “decent traditional CVs” in their twenties and thirties, who now face a much darker job market. ‘they could not have done so if they had served in a more conventional administration.

K Street is already gearing up for the post-Trump era. Earlier this month, Brian Ballard, one of Trump’s top fundraisers who once worked as one of his lobbyists, announced his company would add three Democrats to its Washington office. Mr. Ballard said the hires “will continue to increase our company’s ability to effectively defend both sides of the aisle.”

Some former Trump associates who left his orbit before the administration’s final days have found jobs in established lobbying firms and advisory groups.

Bryan Lanza, former Trump campaign advisor, is a partner at Washington lobbying and public affairs firm Mercury LLC. Eric Branstad, a former White House adviser in Mr. Trump’s Commerce Department, is now the managing director of Mercury’s Iowa office.

Corey Lewandowski, who was formerly Mr. Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, joined Turnberry Solutions, the lobby store founded by three former Trump campaign aides, in 2019. Ryan Zinke, the former Home Secretary , joined the company the same year.

Some ethics experts say the new market for Washington lobbyists will prove to be more important than Mr. Trump’s lifting of the ban, as many former officials have found ways to bend the rules.

“You have to be nearly brain dead to get caught in the lobbying ban that Trump had,” number one’s Ms McGehee said, noting that an individual does not have a mandate to register as a lobbyist only if he devotes 20% of his work. hours of lobbying – a measure virtually impossible to verify.

“If you don’t want to register, it’s very easy to get around the limits. . . It is based on self-respect, but there is basically no hammer, ”she said.

Despite the ban, OpenSecrets has identified over 200 people who had worked in the Trump administration only to leave and work as lobbyists, or who entered the Trump administration after working on K Street.

Mr Hauser said: “One of the rarely told stories of the Trump years was the lack of respect for his executive order – relatively decent by historical standards.”

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