WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump promised to rid the government of lobbyists. But a reported administration shake-up may put two Washington influence-peddlers in the White House.
The New York Times reported on Friday that Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager who attempted to turn his links to the president into a lobbying career, is ready to join a new White House war room intended to sharpen the administration’s adversarial message. On Tuesday, Axios reported that David Urban, a longtime Republican lobbyist and former adviser to Trump’s campaign, could take over as White House chief of staff ― replacing Reince Priebus.
Trump promised as a candidate to “drain the swamp” in Washington and enact stringent rules preventing lobbyist influence in his administration. Within the first 10 days in office he signed an executive order imposing ethics and lobbying rules on executive branch officials. He said his order would supersede a previous executive order signed by President Barack Obama on his first day in office in 2009, which Trump claimed was riddled with loopholes.
The prospect of Lewandowski and Urban joining Trump’s White House team “shows how much of a shamble his claim to be draining the swamp is,” Larry Noble, an ethics and campaign finance law expert at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told HuffPost.
Obama-era rules flat-out banned people who were registered as lobbyists the previous year from joining the administration, though some waivers were allowed. Trump’s rules don’t prohibit the hiring of lobbyists, but rather say they can’t work on issues that were their focus within the last two years. Nor has the administration explained how broadly or narrowly it applies this ban.
How the Trump administration is applying its rules may be partially explained on Thursday, when the White House is expected to turn over the waivers to the Office of Government Ethics it provided to the dozens of former lobbyists hired to work in executive branch agencies. Those waivers could show a blanket exemption from the ethics and lobbying restrictions for certain employees, and that some have been allowed to work on specific issues that they previously sought to influence.
The White House might find it easy to bring on Lewandowski. He never actually registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act or the Foreign Agent Registration Act, despite attempting to recruit clients for Avenue Strategies, the lobbying firm he co-founded with former Trump adviser Barry Bennett shortly after November’s election.
As for Urban, a registered lobbyist since 2001, the potential conflicts are much more clear.
Since early this year, Urban lobbied the White House for 10 different clients, covering nearly every important issue the administration has been working on. According to lobbying disclosures, Urban sought to influence the Trump White House on the border adjustment tax for the National Retail Association; tax reform, energy policy and immigration for the National Association of Home Builders; transportation issues for Norfolk Southern; tax policy for Walgreen; and cybersecurity and trade for Hewlett-Packard.
Urban also registered to lobby for 19 new clients in 2017 ― eight of them in April and May. These include the National Retail Federation, the National Association of Convenience Stores, Consol Energy, and the PG&E Company. The issues he was hired to work on ranged from energy policy to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and immigration.
Rassini International, the U.S. subsidiary of a Mexican car parts company, is another new Urban client. The company hired him to lobby on issues including North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has frequently bashed and pledged to changed. The accord provides Rassini International the ability to operate a plant in Flint, Michigan. Urban also registered to lobby for Goldman Sachs, then terminated the contract on the same day.
Given the issues Urban has lobbyied on, it seems impossible he could operate as chief of staff while adhering to Trump’s own recusal requirements.