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Knee-Deep in Alligators, Trump Transition Remembers to Drain Swamp
At EWG we’re fans of swamps.
It would be downright foolish to drain any more of them. America has lost about half the area of these incredibly important ecosystems since the time of European settlement, when wetlands – marshes, swamps and various seasonally wet areas – in the continental U.S. occupied an estimated 221 million acres. After centuries of draining for agriculture and development, we’re now down to about 110 million acres. If anything, we should protect what’s left and restore some more wetlands.
But during his candidacy, when President-elect Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp in Washington,” he meant something else. He vowed to “push for a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.” And he promised to impose a suite of get-tough measures on the only District of Columbia denizens he apparently thinks are more notorious than politicians: lobbyists. Below are Trump’s promises:
First: I am going to institute a 5-year ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government after they leave government service.
Second: I am going to ask Congress to institute its own 5-year ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and their staffs.
Third: I am going to expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisors when we all know they are lobbyists.
Fourth: I am going to issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.
Fifth: I am going to ask Congress to pass a campaign finance reform that prevents registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections.
But although he made these populist outsider pledges, Trump’s transition team is heavily populated by the very insiders he vowed to defang and banish.
As Politico reported, key figures in the transition were lobbyists for industry, with a heavy emphasis on the realms of Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Food and Big Ag – you get the idea.
Not exactly a public interest pantheon. (That would look more like the distinguished list to which EWG has proudly been named year after year.) Indeed, it’s not clear that anyone on the transition team comes from the public interest world – unless you count EPA transition chief Myron Ebell, who works at the industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Politico’s Planet Trump transition roster includes the following:
Cindy Hayden, of tobacco giant Altria, is in charge of Trump’s Homeland Security team.
J. Steven Hart, chairman of Williams & Jensen, is in charge of the Labor team. His clients include Visa, the American Council of Life Insurers, Anthem, Cheniere Energy, Coca-Cola, General Electric, PhRMA and United Airlines.
Michael McKenna, of MWR Strategies, who is working on the Energy Department team, lobbies for Engie (formerly GDF Suez), Southern Company and Dow Chemical.
David Bernhardt, of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, who leads the Interior Department team, lobbies for the Westlands Water District in central California and used to represent Freeport LNG and Rosemont Copper.
Michael Torrey, who has the Agriculture Department portfolio, has his own firm representing the American Beverage Association and the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau.
Mike Catanzaro, of CGCN Group, lobbies for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a refining group, as well as Hess, Encana, Noble Energy and Devon Energy. Catanzaro is working on energy independence, along with Mike Ference, a lobbyist at the firm S-3 Group, representing Halliburton, Koch Industries and Marathon Oil.
Rolf Lundberg, who’s tasked with trade reform, worked at the Chamber of Commerce until 2013, and spun off his own lobbying firm representing Choice Hotels and the International Franchise Association.
Jim Carter, who oversees tax reform, is an in-house lobbyist for manufacturing company Emerson.
Transportation and infrastructure is being led by Martin Whitmer, the founder partner of lobbying firm Whitmer & Worrall, which represents the American Association of Railroads, the National Asphalt Pavement Association and the Utilities Technology Council.
When beleaguered and out-of-favor New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was tossed out as transition head just days after the election, his replacement, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, must have looked around and seen alligators everywhere. Apparently, now he has kicked at least some of them out, although the Trump team wouldn’t say who was ousted.
But as The New York Times reported, “lobbyists joining the Trump team will (only) have to terminate their formal registration to lobby.” K Street, D.C.’s lobbyist row, is crawling with operatives who haven’t registered as lobbyists, but work as lawyers, advisers or consultants.
Trump himself will make a tiny fraction of the government’s decisions over the next four years. The vast majority of those calls will be made by the people he’s surrounding himself with now. From every indication, they will come to the job with the same agendas they had as industry lobbyists. Their impressive command of issues is intricately designed to put government in the service of private interests.
You only have to look at the names Trump is floating as possible cabinet members to see that special interests are not going to be locked out of access to his administration. Stay tuned: Chris Christie may be out, but the lobbyists aren’t leaving. They’re circling.