Special interests aren’t supposed to run the government, but an alarming trend is giving them more influence than ever before.

In recent years, we’ve seen a surge in the appointment of lobbyists to high-level positions at agencies they recently sought to influence. Many of these lobbyist-appointees have conflicts of interest that could impact policies and the enforcement of existing laws.

These conflicts are worryingly common for many of President Trump’s appointees, and it can be hard to keep track of which interests have their fingerprints on which arms of the government. So we’ve put together this handy guide highlighting the most egregious conflicts of interest in each federal department.

These appointees were registered lobbyists before joining the Trump administration. Now they oversee the issues and agencies they used to work to influence on behalf of special-interest clients.  

Department of the Treasury

Drew Maloney, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs

The next time private equity giant Blackstone Group wants a special legislative loophole, they can call on their old friend Drew Maloney, who now works as a liaison between the Treasury Department and Congress.

Before becoming the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs, Maloney spent more than a decade as a lobbyist for companies that could be impacted by the financial, trade, and tax policy issues that the Treasury works on. From 2005 to 2012, Maloney was CEO of Oglivy Government Relations, one of the highest-grossing and most powerful lobbying shops in Washington. His clients at Oglivy included major financial firms like Blackstone Group, CIT Group, and Visa.

Since 2012, Maloney has served as the top lobbyist for Hess Corporation, a multinational oil and gas company that has lobbied the Treasury Department on foreign policy issues involving Libya and Russia sanctions.

Conflicts: Blackstone Group, Hess Corporation, CIT Group, Visa, Cash America International, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, and more

Department of Justice

Makan Delrahim, United States Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust

As AT&T tries to finalize their $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, one of their former lobbyists, Makan Delrahim, is taking the reins of the office that will decide whether or not to approve it. Unsurprisingly, Delrahim has already said that he doesn’t see any major problems with the deal.

Delrahim joins the DoJ as the head of the Antitrust Division after working for years with large corporate clients that routinely lobby the government on antitrust issues. From 2005-2016, Delrahim was a lobbyist for Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, where “Labor, Antitrust & Workplace” was one of the top issue areas he discussed in meetings with government policy makers.

Besides the AT&T conflict, another of his recent clients, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, had a merger review pending at the DoJ as recently as May 2017 (the Anthem-Cigna merger, which has since been dropped). Delrahim is taking on the job amidst a boom in corporate mergers that need to be reviewed by the DoJ, as well as a growing public sentiment that corporations are growing too large and too concentrated. He will have a profound influence on antitrust enforcement in his new role.

Conflicts: AT&T, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Comcast, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Qualcomm Inc, WMG Acquisition Corp (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Warner Music Group), Pfizer, and more

Department of the Interior

David Bernhardt, Deputy Secretary of the Interior

The law firm that David Bernhardt left when he joined the administration, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, owns 200,000 shares in a company called Cadiz Inc. that is seeking Interior Department approval to pump water from beneath the Mojave Desert and send it via pipeline it to California. If the project is approved, the firm will earn another 200,000 shares in Cadiz stock.

Now, as Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Bernhardt will have direct influence over approving the pipeline project and helping his old firm earn their additional shares. And it appears their project is on its way to approval — Cadiz’s pipeline was featured on a list of priority projects that was leaked after President Trump took office.

In addition to working with Cadiz, as the top natural resources lobbyist for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for 13 years, Bernhardt retained a wide-ranging portfolio of clients from the agricultural, oil and gas, and mining sectors that could present conflicts with his work at the Interior Department.

Conflicts: Westlands Water District, Halliburton, Statoil, Active Network LLC, Cadiz Inc., Rosemont Copper Co, Hudbay Minerals, Noble Energy, Cobalt International Energy, Titanium Metals Corporation, and more


Kristi Boswell, Senior Advisor to the Secretary at USDA

When the Farm Bill comes up in 2018, the agribusiness interests that benefit from crop insurance, farm subsidies, and agricultural loan programs will have a powerful ally at the department that advises on these programs.

From 2012 to 2016, Kristi Boswell worked for the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the largest agribusiness groups in the U.S., as chief legislative lobbyist. Now she is an advisor to Sonny Perdue, the Secretary of the USDA, working on issues that will directly impact the Farm Bureau and its members.

The Farm Bureau has historically fought the government on issues like labeling genetically modified foods, animal welfare reforms, and environmental regulations. They also lobby for agricultural subsidies and crop insurance programs in the Farm Bill. Boswell reported lobbying her new employer, the USDA, on behalf of the Farm Bureau as recently as the second quarter of 2017.  

Conflicts: American Farm Bureau Federation


Peter Davidson, General Counsel

Part of the Commerce Department’s mission is to create “an infrastructure that promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development,” yet their new top lawyer, Peter Davidson, just spent 13 years helping Verizon gain a near-monopoly on broadband and fighting against pro-competition policies like net neutrality.

From 2003-2016, Davidson was the top lobbyist at Verizon, where he lobbied the government — including the Commerce Department — on issues including spectrum allocation, broadband privacy, and more. Verizon’s lobbying expenditures exploded under Davidson’s leadership, peaking at more than $16.8 million in 2010. In 2012, The Hill included Davidson on its “Top Lobbyists” list for his role in getting the Department of Justice to approve a controversial, multi-billion dollar deal allowing Verizon to purchase wireless spectrum from the big cable companies. Before working for Verizon, Davidson was Policy Director and General Counsel for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

Conflicts: Verizon Communications

Department of Labor

Geoffrey Burr, Chief of Staff

Geoffrey Burr, a lobbyist with a history of opposing unions on wage standards and occupational safety issues, now fills one of the most influential policy positions at the agency that oversees those issues.

Burr worked for 13 years as the top lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors, the non-union construction industry’s largest trade group. While at the ABC, Burr fought the Labor Department on rules designed to protect workers from exposure to dangerous crystalline silica, ensuring safety for workers in confined spaces, and wage standards for government contract jobs.

In 2015, Burr left the ABC and took a job as top lobbyist for Cablevision, a New York-based cable company. As Chief of Staff he will be DoL Secretary Alex Acosta’s right-hand man, with the power to push policy and manage the Secretary’s outreach with stakeholders in the labor arena.

Conflicts: Associated Builders and Contractors, Cablevision


Mark Esper, Secretary of the Army

The next time Raytheon wants to sell a new batch of weapons or radar equipment to the Army, they’ll be dealing with a familiar face. Since 2010, Mark Esper has held the job of top lobbyist for Raytheon, the third-largest defense contractor in the U.S. President Trump recently nominated Esper for Secretary of the Army, and once confirmed, he’ll be in charge of, among other things, purchasing weapons systems and equipment from contractors like Raytheon.

Each year Raytheon sells billions of dollars worth of weapons and other services to the government. Their major products include the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, and radar systems like the PAVE PAWS and the ALE-50 towed decoy. Raytheon spent $5-$7 million per year lobbying the government on “defense electronics” issues while Esper was their chief lobbyist. In 2016 they received $12.6 billion worth of federal contracts.

Conflicts: Raytheon

Department of Health and Human Services

Lance Leggitt, Chief of Staff

Last year, Leggitt worked a lobbyists for health care companies trying to influence policy at the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid. Now he is Chief of Staff at that agency.

Prior to taking the job at HHS, Lance Leggitt was the head of health policy at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a large and powerful K Street lobbying shop, from 2006-2016. Leggitt helped collect as much as $900,000 in fees each year and represented more than 40 clients from the pharmaceutical, hospital, and health insurance industries.

His lobbying disclosures show that he primarily lobbied on medicare billing and reimbursement issues. Leggitt was also a senior health policy advisor in the Bush administration.

Conflicts: Advanced Infusion Solutions, Alere Inc, All American Medical Supplies, Arthroscopy Association of America, Diabetes Management & Supplies, EO2 Concepts, Global Medical Direct, United States Medical Supply, and more


Chris Brown, Associate Administrator for Government and Industry Affairs at the Federal Aviation Administration

The big airlines — notorious for their outrageous fees, cramped seating arrangements, and aggressive passenger removal tactics — could be getting more control over your flying experience. Chris Brown has joined the Department of Transportation following a stint as the top lobbyist for legislative and regulatory affairs at Airlines for America, an airline industry trade group representing United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, and other large airlines.

While at Airlines for America, Brown advocated for a plan to privatize the air traffic control system by putting it in the hands of a nonprofit that would be controlled by the big airlines. Now he’s pushing that plan from within the FAA. Brown issued a memo advocating for the privatization on July 12.

Brown has also worked as a staffer for the congressional Subcommittee on Aviation, as well as lobbying firms Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Manatt Phelps & Phillips, and United Airlines.

Conflicts: Airlines for America, United Airlines


Andrew Wheeler, Deputy Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency

The dirtiest energy industry has a new friend at the agency in charge of protecting the environment. Prior to taking over the #2 spot at the EPA, Wheeler was a lobbyist at Faegre Bakers Daniels Consulting, where he represented Murray Energy, the largest privately owned coal company in the United States.

During the Obama years, Murray Energy repeatedly challenged federal environmental regulations, filing more than half a dozen lawsuits, including one that lead to the Supreme Court blocking the EPA from regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants. Besides Murray Energy, Wheeler lobbied for interests from the natural gas, food manufacturing, and electric utilities industries. Wheeler is also a former aide to Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), a leading climate-change denier in Congress and an advocate for the oil and gas industry.

Conflicts: Murray Energy, Xcel Energy, Bear Head LNG Corp, Energy Fuels Resources Inc, Underwriters Laboratories, Domestic Fuel Solutions Group, Nuclear Energy Institute, and more

Department of Homeland Security

Thomas Blank, Chief of Staff, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Immigration enforcement might be about to get more violent. Thomas Blank lobbied the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of taser manufacturers, facial recognition software companies, and other companies for more than a decade before taking his job at I.C.E..

While employed as a lobbyist by Wexler & Walker, Blank represented Taser International (now Axon) in meetings with Homeland Security, where discussions focused on the use of “technologies/electronic control devices by Homeland Security agencies.” Blank also lobbied Homeland Security on behalf of Assuretec Inc., a company that specializes in facial recognition and identity verification systems.

Prior to working as a lobbyist, Blank worked in the Bush administration and helped to develop the Transportation Security Administration.

Conflicts: Taser International (Axon), Boeing, Assuretec Inc., Analogic Corp, Redlen Technologies, Blue Spark Technologies, Intellicheck Inc., Syagen Technologies, and more.

Note: In four federal departments — the State Department, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Veterans Affairs — no currently active lobbyist/appointees with direct conflicts of interest could be identified.

About Donald Shaw
Donald Shaw is a journalist covering lobbying and money in politics. He is based in Western Massachusetts.
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