Saturday, November 30, 2019

Trump's Swamp Is Worse Than Even Harding's And Grant's Administrations Combined!


Last year USA Today columnist Paul Brandus reminded his readers that "We’ve had presidents who were used by members of their own family for personal gain, like Ulysses S. Grant. We’ve had presidents who stocked their Cabinet with greedy, self-serving mediocrities who took advantage of the public trust, like Warren G. Harding. We’ve had presidents who swore to 'preserve, protect and defend' the Constitution, only to then abuse it, like Richard Nixon. And we’ve had presidents who, thanks to a presumptive sense of entitlement, lived slimy private lives, using countless women before tossing them aside-- Harding again, plus John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton."

But Trump, he continued, "falls into every single sleazy category, squarely and shamelessly... Much worse than Richard Nixon... A grifting family. A sleazy what’s-in-it-for-me Cabinet. Trampling on our beloved Constitution. And all these women. All the boxes, checked."

Last month David Mora, writing for ProPublica, attempted to examine one contour of the ever-expanding fetid Trump Swamp: lobbyists. He wrote that at the halfway mark of Trump’s occupation of the White House, "his administration has hired a lobbyist for every 14 political appointments made, welcoming a total of 281 lobbyists on board, a ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations analysis shows. With a combination of weakened rules and loose enforcement easing the transition to government and back to K Street, Trump’s swamp is anything but drained. The number of lobbyists who have served in government jobs is four times more than the Obama administration had six years into office. And former lobbyists serving Trump are often involved in regulating the industries they worked for."

Even government watchdogs who’ve long monitored the revolving door say that its current scale is a major shift from previous administrations. It’s a “staggering figure,” according to Virginia Canter, ethics chief counsel for the D.C.-based legal nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It suggests that lobbyists see themselves as more effective in furthering their clients’ special interests from inside the government rather than from outside.”

We tracked the lobbyists as part of an update to Trump Town, our database of political appointees. We’ve added the names of 639 new staffers with the administration and the financial disclosures of 351 political appointees who have filled different positions over the past year, and we tracked the careers of 338 who departed government during the same period.

The full extent of the lobbying industry’s influence is hard to measure because federal agencies decline to share details of recusals granted to officials who disclose potential conflicts with their new government roles.

Consider Colin Roskey. Days after leaving a two-decade career as what one former employer called the “smartest” health care lobbyist, he joined the Department of Health and Human Services in January. As deputy secretary for legislation for mandatory health, he headed the portfolio that he tried to influence for most of his career.

HHS declined to reveal any recusals he signed while appointed. A spokesman said that “all employees are expected to abide by the ethics rules.”

Just days before joining HHS, Roskey listed among his clients major dialysis providers that receive federal payments through Medicare, including Fresenius Medical Care-- an industry juggernaut, with more than 330,000 patients in thousands of dialysis clinics in the U.S. A third of the company’s billion-dollar revenue comes from Medicare. A recent revamp in the dialysis industry ordered by Trump, expected to shift millions of dollars from dialysis centers to cheaper home-based options, put Roskey’s office at the heart of regulating how much profit or loss some of his former clients will see in coming years. Roskey said in an interview that he recused himself from this matter.

Public records show that Roskey lobbied for at least 27 clients between January 2017 and December 2018 on an array of issues other than dialysis involving public health care programs, from prescription drugs to palliative care.

In early October, Roskey stepped out of government and went straight back to work for his old lobbying firm, Lincoln Policy Group, which specializes in health care policy. “Spending time at HHS will make [Roskey] even more valuable to our team-- and we are so excited to have him back,” the lobbying firm announced in a statement.

Roskey said he had no knowledge of how the new kidney care regulations will be implemented.

After his monthslong stint with the Health Department, Roskey said he plans to lobby the legislative branch, which is not prohibited by the current ethics rules. “While working with the government I gained knowledge and background, intellectually and professionally, and I intend to unapologetically utilize those skills for my employer and clients,” he said.

The senior-level appointment of a key lobbyist raises concerns for ethics experts like Canter. “There’s no way [he would’ve been hired under Obama] because Trump dropped a key provision of the Obama ethics pledge,” she said.

Indeed, an Obama-era ethics pledge clause absent in Trump’s prevented registered lobbyists from seeking or accepting employment with any executive agency that they lobbied the two years prior.

Federal laws forbid government employees who have served as registered lobbyists in the two years prior to their appointment from handling the particular matters or the specific issue areas that they used to lobby. Similarly, after leaving the government, all appointees-turned-lobbyists are barred from seeking to influence their former agencies and engaging in behind-the-scenes work with other senior officials across the administration.

The revolving door, of course, has been spinning since well before the Trump administration. In 2009, after President Barack Obama took office, ProPublica built a smaller version of Trump Town. During his administration, government watchdog groups also decried the conflicts of interest brought by some political appointees, and the Washington Post tallied 65 lobbyists among Obama’s ranks in five years.

One Obama-era alum, for instance, has gone on to lobby for the nation’s largest pharmaceutical industry trade group, according to public records. Bridgett Taylor, who occupied Roskey’s position until Trump took office, left the government to lobby Congress and federal agencies on matters related to those she oversaw at HHS. Taylor declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Taylor’s employer, said that “her lobbying contacts have been confined to Congress,” and that she has not lobbied HHS in her new role.

If it’s certainly not new, the enforcement of ethics provisions has lagged under Trump. In governmentwide surveys conducted by the Office of Government Ethics, federal agencies reported only 106 registered lobbyists who joined the administration. In their answers, ethics officers argued that they “don’t know” how many registered lobbyists had been hired or that they didn’t “track the number of individuals who fell into this category.” When asked about referrals for further enforcement of ethics violations, an officer admitted that they “don’t maintain a centralized database of the bases of proposed disciplinary actions.”

Jeff Hauser, who heads the Revolving Door Project at the nonpartisan Center for Economic and Policy Research, contends that “Trump has organized the executive branch as a mechanism to reward allies and their political power. Lobbyists are hired not because they’re great at the specific matter that they lobby for but because their specialty is delivering political results.”

Corporations also see value in hiring former government staffers, as they bring connections within the agencies and exceptional knowledge about regulation. Among the staffers who recently left their administration positions, 29 went to work for K Street firms-- as registered lobbyist or not. At least 59 former employees have done so over the past three years.

One is Laura Kemper, a former HHS senior official who, within days of leaving her post in March, was hired by Fresenius. Now vice president for government affairs, Kemper heads the company’s policy group.

According to lobbying records, she is listed among the in-house lobbyists who have visited Congress, the White House and HHS since March, pushing everything from reimbursement for dialysis services to home dialysis. The records show Fresenius shelled out more than $2.2 million for lobbying activities during the first half of the year.

Kemper had also spent years lobbying Congress and federal agencies on behalf of health care companies before joining HHS in March 2017.

Her pass through the revolving door tests the boundaries of ethics rules. Indeed, Trump’s pledge prohibits staffers-turned-registered lobbyists from advocating for the special interests of their corporate bosses before the agencies where they used to work for at least five years. It also restricts former employees from behind-the-scenes lobbying with any senior federal official for the remainder of Trump’s presidency. Kemper signed that pledge.

Kemper declined to comment. In a statement, Fresenius said Kemper “has strictly followed her legal and ethical obligations and has not been involved in lobbying the administration or anything related to the Executive Order.” Disclosure forms filed by Fresenius “cite the general activity of a team and do not ascribe any particular lobbying activity,” according to its statement.

Recently, during an earnings call to investors, Fresenius CEO Rice Powell said that the company has talked to the “appropriate people in Washington,” without naming any particular Fresenius or government staffer. “We are in the midst of commenting and asking questions” with HHS officials, he added.

As ProPublica has reported, political appointees who return to lobbying have found ways to tiptoe around ethics rules. Some register as lobbyists but limit their interactions to Congress, leaving colleagues to lobby the executive branch. Ethics restrictions don’t apply to congressional lobbying.

One such case is Geoffrey Burr, a lobbyist who joined the Labor Department early in the Trump administration. More recently, he was chief of staff to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. He left the Transportation Department in January and soon became policy director at one of the nation’s largest lobbying firms.

According to records, Burr now lobbies for clients with a stake in transportation issues, including The Northeast MAGLEV, the company behind what would be the first high-speed train in the U.S. A January press release announcing his hiring praised Burr’s “high-level involvement with Transportation and Labor [that will] provide clients with the strategic guidance they need to navigate business issues with the administration.”

Burr signed the ethics pledge and, according to records, lobbies only Congress, abiding by the rule of not contacting the executive branch. Other partners at his firm lobby the Transportation Department and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

The Transportation Department didn’t respond to requests for comment, and Burr declined to talk.

There are also former Trump administration staffers who go back to K Street but don’t register as lobbyists-- the Lobbying Disclosure Act only requires those who spend 20% or more of their time lobbying to register.

Rebecca Wood and Brooke Appleton held senior Trump administration positions for more than a year at the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, respectively. Both left the administration and returned to their former employers-- this time, in more senior positions.

Wood now leads the food and drug practice at Sidley Austin, a powerful law and lobbying firm in Washington, where her colleagues lobby the FDA for various clients. Appleton went from being director to vice president for public policy for the National Corn Growers Association; she leads at least six people lobbying the Agriculture Department and other federal agencies.
And, of course, it isn't just Trump on his own. His congressional allies are behaving just as corruptly. J.D. Scholten, the Iowa progressive running against neo-fascist Steve King pointed out that in terms of his district, the "administration is full of oil lobbyists that have created policy that clearly has benefited the oil industry while hurting farmers and rural America. Their actions in August alone depressed corn prices by 10%, a record drop for that month."

Julie Oliver, a progressive reformer taking on Trumpist used car salesman Roger Williams in a gerrymandered district (TX-25) that stretches from Burleson, split between Tarrant and Johnson counties south of Fort Worth, straight down into the heart of Austin. "Congress," she told his today, "is supposed to represent people-- real human beings. Not corporations, not lobbyists, not PACs, not special interests. There's a reason for the dysfunction and mistrust we feel about Congress-- just look at how bought-and-paid-for our congressman is. Roger Williams doesn't sit on the Rural Broadband caucus. He doesn't sit on the Beef caucus. He sits on Finance, where he looks out for big banks, and big money. Most of his contributions come from PACs. A lot of Democrats claim to not take corporate PAC money-- but we don't take a single dime from any PAC. It's because you have to know that when I'm in Congress, and I'm considering legislation on taxes for corporations, or pharmaceutical pricing, or Medicare for All, I can't have my arm twisted. We have to end the cancer of public corruption in our politics and get corporations and big money out of Congress."

Goal ThermometerKara Eastman, the progressive Democrat taking on Trump enabler Donald J Bacon in Omaha has a very similar perspective: "I have rejected all corporate PAC contributions, and will continue to do so once in office. In contrast, my opponent, Rep. Don Bacon, votes entirely with his corrupt donations at the forefront. The most egregious example occurred in early 2019. As the House contemplated voting to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, Rep. Bacon was a supporter. But then, when it came down to a final vote, he voted 'no.' We later learned that this was due to the fact that the reauthorized legislation contained improvements to protections afforded to victims where their abusers owned or possessed firearms. The National Rifle Association opposed these protections, and communicated this displeasure to Don Bacon. Then, he voted no. It's well-documented that the NRA has sent him over $25,000 in direct contributions, plus more by way of independent expenditures in his races for Congress. It's this kind of pay to play that I oppose and will fight strongly against in Congress."

Kathy Ellis is running in a deep red southeast Missouri district which both parties take for granted. But no one likes corruption. "Representatives should be accountable to their constituents-- not their corporate donors and lobbyists," said Kathy this morning. "My opponent, Rep. Jason Smith, is open about his corporate ties. Just this cycle, he’s taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from organizations like ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers. His loyalty lies with them-- not with the people of the 8th District-- and his votes against healthcare access, the rights of working-class people, and human rights clearly demonstrate this. My vote can’t be bought, and I’m not taking a single dime of corporate PAC money. My loyalty lies with my neighbors in the 8th District."

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At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Trump and his Swamp Things, government only has two purposes: provide competition-free profit opportunities, and to keep We the People from interfering with realizing those profits.

In France, Malta and Hong Kong in particular, the citizens are out in the streets protesting against governmental corruption and oppression. In the USA, people are locked in to watching Sean Spicer hoofing about on Dancing With The Stars of the myriad of football talking head shows. Under such conditions, how could criminals like Trunp NOT steal the nation right out from under them? The opportunity is far too profitable to pass up!

At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

True. But it's nothing new. Tom Delay ring any bells? 'Casino' Jack Abramoff? Tom fucking Daschle?

All I can say is thank gawd that we have our intrepid democraps on the job to fix all this. Otherwise can you imagine how much worse it would get? .. um..

I guess then it'll be up to the voters to demand that we de-swampify. .. um..

oh wait... never mind.

At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure you could not make a case that every single admin after Carter was nothing but grifters raking the most they could.

how much did Reagan repay his wealthy supporters in (and out of) the swamp when he cut their taxes? How much did his swamp skim from the quarter trillion in increased war street spending?
Clinton and his party created a repayment plan for his wall street swampers by passing GLBA and CFMA giving them a start on $21 trillion in extra grift. The corporate sectors in the swamp loved NAFTA and all the deregs. made them a ton of money.
Cheney/bush were very overt in their own profiteering from arbitrary wars they started for fun, oil and profit. How much did Rumsfeld and cheney make directly from military contracts?
obamanation had wall streeters all over his team. he repaid them by letting them keep their $21 trillion in grift and by refusing to enforce laws. And he created a perpetual income system for his retirement. He makes millions per year "talking" to wall street.

nobody notices or cares... because the media won't report it? Or maybe they don't care anyway. Certainly voters don't vote like they give a shit.

nothing new.


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