Trump Fills the Swamp with Fossil Fuel Lobbyists
DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn says federal agencies are now being staffed by advocates of clean coal, expanded fossil fuel drilling, and hunting of endangered animals
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
One of Donald Trump’s campaign promises is that he would “drain the swamp” of Washington D.C. politicians and corruption, and what many have called the revolving door from political office to corporate lobbyist. So, here is Donald Trump on the topic in his joint address to Congress a couple weeks back.
DONALD TRUMP: We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by Executive Branch officials, and a lifetime ban… and a lifetime ban, on becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.
KIM BROWN: In January, Trump signed an Executive Order: The Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees that ostensibly bans politicians from becoming corporate lobbyists for five years — but what about lobbyists being hired to hold government positions?
And with us to discuss this, we’re joined by Steve Horn. He is a research fellow for The Smog Blog. He is an investigative reporter whose work has appeared in outlets such as, The Nation, The Guardian, and Truth Out. He joins us today from Indianapolis, Indiana — Steve, thank you for coming back to The Real News, nice to see you again.
STEVE HORN: Good to be back down, thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: So, talk about your recent article titled, “Former Koch Agents: Fossil Fuel Industry Hired Guns Now Staffing Trump’s Federal Agencies.” So, who is being hired, and what is their former affiliation?
STEVE HORN: Oh, yeah. So, for this article that I wrote, I completely owe it to a staff list that was obtained by “Republica,” which published the list and did its own story about it. It didn’t focus as much on energy, climate, environment, but included on that list was staffers on, “Bench Head Teams” for agencies such as the Department of Interior, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, State Department and others.
So, not every agency, but a lot of key ones. And they’re still waiting on other staff lists that said there’s a lot that can be gleaned from these lists, and that’s where my article came from.
And so, if you look at the agencies that I honed in on, which I didn’t really focus on the EPA, because a lot of those staffers had already been focused on. There’s been a lot of scrutiny on Scott Pruitt, who is now the Administrator of the EPA. Him and his staff have gotten quite a bit of press tension, but lesser focused on, have been the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy.
The Department of Energy is headed, now by Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry and you can see some of his hires on this list, and they are illuminating in many ways. And I would say, in particular, due to their connections to the coal industry, which would be a departure from the Obama Administration, which really, when you looked at those hires were much more centered on either the renewable and clean energy sector, or the oil and gas industries.
You see, for example, a guy by the name of Doug Matheny, who prior to this, was working for the National Mining Association, and an advocacy group that they had set up in Ohio to promote coal mining in Ohio. And to fight back against President Obama’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which would have regulated coal fired power plants.
He moved on from there, and then got a job working for Americans for Prosperity, in Ohio. Which is a front group created by the Koch brothers, and funded by Koch Industries, and others. So, that’s sort of a case in point, he’s listed as an assistant to Rick Perry, on that staff list.
You see others such as Mark Maddox, who worked for the Bush Administration, as Assistant Secretary of Energy. During his tenure at the Department of Energy under Bush, he pushed and helped oversee the Future Gen Project, which was a carbon capture and sequestration project, or “clean coal” demonstration project, in Illinois. Which was pushed for about a decade, and got lots of subsidies from the Department of Energy to try to sequester their carbon under the ground, that’s pumped out of that coal-fired power plant. It never really worked. They spent a lot of money on it, and they shut it down in 2015.
So, his background is in, first, pushing that at the Department of Energy, and then becoming a lobbyist for that cause for companies, such as Klein Resources, which mines lots of coal in Illinois. He lobbied for Sasso and others, and then now he’s going back to the government. And so, I think that looking at those two in the Department of Energy, you see sort of this, either, in the case of Maddox, you see sort of a reverse revolving door situation, where someone starts in government, leaves government and comes back to government. Or, you just see a classic revolving door of someone who worked for the industry in some capacity, and then goes and works for the government.
And the same thing exists in the Department of Interior. You look at, you know, a woman for example, Melissa Simpson, who had been hired to work under the leadership of Ryan Zinke, our new Secretary of the Interior. She started her career in Congress, and then passed through the revolving door, worked for a PR firm named Pac/West, which mostly does activity in Colorado, and in the West, but does have a D.C. office. She stayed in D.C.
It came out through an investigation that the Center for American Progress did, that she was on the payroll of a really important advocacy group named Western Energy Alliance, which does a lot of lobbying and advocacy around more oil and gas drilling on public lands, in the U.S.
So, she was, you know, kind of covertly on the payroll while working at Pac/West that got their hands on confidential documents. She went from that job, she then got a job working for Safari Group International, or Safari Club International. Which mostly is known as a group that lobbies and advocates for more trophy hunting of rare, or often endangered animals, prized animals. They take a lot of money from the oil and gas industry. And her key role at the Safari Club was actually helping to obtain more oil and gas money for the Safari Club.
So, she leaves that, you know, she works in lobbies and advocates for that group for several years, and now she’s back working for the Department of the Interior. We don’t know her exact title, but we do know from that Republica list, that she is listed as the most senior ranking type of salary type. So, she will most likely be something like a Deputy to Zinke, or a very senior level staffer, or Assistant to Zinke. Which makes sense, given her extensive background in lobbying and government.
So, these are just a few examples of either the revolving door, or the reverse revolving door. And this is sort of the carve-out that exists in that whole Trump “drain the swamp” situation. He’s talking about leaving the government after you work for… working for him, and then going back into private sector lobbying. But there’s nothing in there about, you know, the other end, where you were a lobbyist, then you come work for the government.
KIM BROWN: And you know, the case or the individual that this rule that sort of jumps out at me, is his former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, who recently had to retroactively register himself with the Federal government, as I believe, an agent of a foreign government. That would be Turkey, in which Michael Flynn was an active lobbyist in all, you know, for all intents and purposes, working on the Turkish government’s behalf, while serving as part of the Trump campaign, later on his transition team.
And to what extent he still continued his lobbying efforts on Turkey’s behalf, after he was appointed National Security Advisor, we don’t really know. So, would this rule affect a Michael Flynn, or a Michael Flynn type of situation?
STEVE HORN: Michael Flynn type situation came up, in the most recent White House press briefing, when asked to press secretary Sean Spicer, and he said it would apply to Michael Flynn. Meaning that someone like Michael Flynn could not go and again, like, in the next five years, he couldn’t go work for the government of Turkey, or other governments. That was his answer, but he said that it would have to be checked by their legal counsel.
So, if you look at the type of people that I’m talking about, at least in theory, they cannot leave the White House and then go become lobbyists. But I think that the carve-out was that they can’t lobby the Executive Branch. They can go lobby other units of the Federal government, in particular Congress, or they could become lobbyist’s advisors.
That means that they don’t register as lobbyists. They go work for a lobbying firm, and they go there to advise other lobbyists, who then go and register. And that’s a carve-out that has existed for years now. These are people called “unlobbyists” — they never register to lobby, but they basically function as lobbyists. And I think that that, you know, Trump’s Executive Order wouldn’t cover that either.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, we’re going to link to your piece and to several other pieces that you’ve done covering this topic, Steve. The most recent of which being, “Former Koch Agents: Fossil Fuel Industry Hired Guns now Staffing Trump’s Federal Agencies.” So, we’ll link that for all of our viewers and listeners who want to check that out.
But we’ve been speaking with Steve Horn. He is a research fellow for The Smog Blog. He’s also an investigative reporter. Steve, we appreciate you speaking to us today, thank you.
STEVE HORN: Great to be on, thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: Thanks. And thank you for watching The Real News Network.