WASHINGTON — The day after the presidential election, the Washington lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck touted its Republican team's "significant relationships ... with those who will steer the incoming Trump administration." It highlighted Marc Lampkin, managing partner of its Washington office and a Trump fundraiser.
Such efforts are among the ways lobbyists advertise their connections and ability to influence. One posted a pre-inauguration photo with the president on his firm's website; another maintained a former campaign title on Facebook; others made sure to stress the backgrounds of their connected staff members online or in press releases.
Despite Donald Trump's campaign vow to "drain the swamp" of lobbyists and special interests, Washington's influence industry is alive and well — and growing. Former members of the Trump transition team, presidential campaign and administration, as well as friends have set up shop as lobbyists and cashed in on connections, according to a new report compiled by Public Citizen, a public interest group, and reviewed by The Associated Press.
Records through Aug. 31 showed at least 44 registered federal lobbyists with ties to Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. These firms have collectively billed nearly $41.8 million to clients — seven of the 10 most lucrative being foreign interests, according to the analysis of federal lobbying disclosure filings.
Clients have included the owner of a private equity group that received government approval to take over the major for-profit college chain University of Phoenix, and the directors of Wells Fargo, which has faced increased government scrutiny after its workers created bogus accounts for unwitting clients.
Others include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the governments of Afghanistan, Kenya, Iraq, Guatemala and Malaysia, and Moise Katumbi, the opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"The message is pretty clear, this is who you need to look out to if you want to influence the Trump administration," said Public Citizen's Alan Zibel, a former AP journalist who co-authored the report.
In his first interview as president-elect on "60 Minutes," Trump agreed that lobbyists "owned politicians" because they give them money and said he had done so as a businessman.
"Everybody that works for government, they then leave government and they become a lobbyist, essentially. I mean, the whole place is one big lobbyist," Trump said. "I'm saying that they know the system right now, but we're going to phase that out. You have to phase it out."
Trump issued an executive order on ethics roughly a week into his term that built on President Barack Obama's 2009 order. Trump's order banned executive appointees from lobbying their agencies for five years after leaving office, though not lobbying government as a whole. He also banned appointees from ever working as lobbyists for a foreign government. There was no similar ethics pledge under President George W. Bush.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters called the new restrictions "historically strong." She added: "The White House does not control the actions of private citizens who have never had an official role in the administration."
Guidelines for transition team workers to avoid lobbying activities related to their transition work for six months were ignored or ineffectual, according to Public Citizen, which counted 17 individuals who worked for the Trump transition — an effort taxpayers helped fund — yet engaged in lobbying during the first six months. They collectively billed $19.3 million through August.