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Lobbyists, in Pursuit of COVID-19 Funds, May Have Violated Trump Executive Order Restricting Ex-Officials’ Activities

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 29: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with industry executives on the reopening of the U.S. economy in the State Dining Room May 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump also answered questions on developments in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd.

Several lobbyists tied to the Trump administration may be in violation of President Donald Trump’s executive order placing a five-year restriction on lobbying activity for former executive branch employees, according to a government watchdog report released Monday. In a detailed 70-page report entitled “COVID Lobbyingpalooza,” the group Public Citizen identified at least 40 lobbyists with ties to the administration or “Trump’s political enterprises” who had helped secure more than $10 billion in federal stimulus aid linked to the global pandemic for their private clients.

Following up on his “drain the swamp” campaign promise, one of Trump’s first official acts as president was signing Executive Order 13770 in Jan. 2017, which required all of the administration’s political hires to sign an ethics pledge. Under the pledge, administration officials agreed not to lobby their former agencies for at least five years, or lobbying the White House or political appointees across all federal agencies for the full duration of Trump’s time in office. The restrictions also encompassed performing “lobbying activities.”

The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 defined the term “lobbying activities” to encompass “lobbying contacts and efforts in support of such contacts, including preparation and planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time it is performed, for use in contacts, and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.”

According to the Public Citizen report, “at least five Trump-appointees have appeared on forms indicating that they and their peers lobbied the executive branch on COVID issues.” Additionally, in many of those cases, the forms indicated that “the former officials’ agencies were directly lobbied.”

Those officials include:

Geoff Burr of the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt, who previously served as the chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Per the firm’s 2020 disclosure forms, Burr contacted members of both houses of Congress and the president’s Executive Office concerning COVID issues on behalf of McDonald’s Corp.

Courtney Lawrence, the former deputy assistant secretary for legislation in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has been a lobbyist for healthcare giant Cigna since 2018. The company’s 2020 disclosures indicate, per the report, that “Lawrence and her colleagues lobbied both houses of Congress, the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Treasury, and Lawrence’s former employer, the Department of Health and Human Services, on COVID issues.”

Former director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Office of Legislation Emily Felder, also of Brownstein Hyatt, was similarly listed as contacting both houses of Congress, plus either the Executive Office of the President or the Office of the Vice President (or both offices) on COVID matters on behalf of three clients on COVID issues.

Shannon McGahn, a former counselor to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who works as the National Association of Realtors’ top lobbyist, also appeared to have contacted “both houses of Congress, plus six agencies, including the U.S. Department of the Treasury, on COVID issues.” Shannon McGahn is the wife of former White House counsel Don McGahn.

Jordan Stoick, a former senior Treasury advisor who is a top lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers, was indicated as having “lobbied both houses of Congress plus at least five executive branch agencies, including the Treasury Department, on COVID issues.”

The report argued that because the lobbying disclosure forms do not provide enough information to know for certain whether the lobbyists violated the ethics pledge, investigations into each of the aforementioned former administration officials is warranted.

Read the full report below:

Covid Lobbying Palooza by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.