by Justin Elliott, ProPublica
President Trump has stocked his administration with a small army of former lobbyists and corporate consultants who are now in the vanguard of the effort to roll back government regulations at the agencies they once sought to influence, according to an analysis of government records by the New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.
The Times adds new details to our previous reporting on Trump’s weakening of ethics rules and former lobbyists working on regulations they opposed on behalf of private clients just months ago.
The Times scrutinized financial disclosures of top White House staffers and found that the lobbyists and consultants in their ranks had more than 300 recent corporate clients and employers, including Apple and Anthem, the insurance company.
One striking case involves Michael Catanzaro, an appointee on the National Economic Council whose portfolio includes energy and environmental issues. Catanzaro was formerly a lobbyist for oil and coal companies that strenuously opposed the Obama administration’s clean power regulation. Three industry sources told the Times that Catanzaro is now working on that same issue in the Trump administration.
Even under Trump’s weakened ethics rules, former lobbyists like Catanzaro are not supposed to work on issues that they formerly had lobbied on.
Still, under Trump’s executive order, he can issue waivers at any time to staffers, Catanzaro included, for any reason, and never disclose it.
Even the federal government’s top ethics official, Walter Shaub, who runs the Office of Government Ethics, is being kept in the dark.
“There’s no transparency, and I have no idea how many waivers have been issued,” Shaub told the Times.
At the Labor Department, there are at least two former lobbyists appointed by Trump who previously sought to influence agency regulations. One worked for a financial service firm fighting attempts to regulate financial advisers who manage retirement investments. Another, Geoff Burr, was the top government affairs official for the construction industry trade association, lobbying the agency on matters related to wages and workplace safety.
The hiring of dozens of lobbyists represents a reversal from Trump’s statements during the campaign, when he said he would have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration.
The White House did not respond to specific questions from the Times. Instead, it offered this statement: “The White House requires all of its employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance and has aggressively required employees to recuse or divest where the law requires.”
We’ve also reached out to the White House for comment.
In another blow to transparency, the administration announced Friday it will keep White House visitor logs secret, dropping the Obama-era practice of regularly posting that information.
Those logs offered the public a window into who was getting face time with the president and his staff. They were also used by journalists in countless stories: ProPublica, for example, used the visitor logs for a story last year about a lobbying campaign to push through a controversial airline merger. The logs showed that Rahm Emanuel visited the White House after meeting with airline executives who recruited him to push for the merger.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.