Former campaign aides, fundraisers and others with ties to President Trump and Vice President Pence have attracted dozens of new lobbying clients in Washington, raking in more than $2.2 million in lobbying fees in the first months of the administration, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
Brian Ballard, a longtime Florida lobbyist and a fundraiser for both Trump’s campaign and inaugural committee, appears to lead the pack, signing up 20 federal clients since opening his Washington lobbying operation this year. His company, Ballard Partners, has earned more than $1.1 million in a three-month period, new lobbying reports show.
Ballard is one of more than a dozen White House allies launching new firms, taking new jobs in lobbying firms or signing up new clients this year as companies and other interests look for ways to shape policy in the Trump administration. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to drain the special-interest swamp in Washington.
In a statement, the White House said that Trump had a “great number of highly talented people working on his campaign. It isn’t a surprise those who did not choose to join the administration are highly successful in whatever endeavor they undertake.”
“There is no legal restriction from former campaign aides having positive relationships inside and outside the White House,” the statement said.
Ballard’s federal clients include the private prison firm, GEO Group, which recently won a $110 million federal contract to build the first immigration-detention facility of the new administration.
In addition, Ballard’s firm has landed lucrative deals to represent two foreign interests – the ruling Socialist Party of Albania and the Dominican Republic. His firm will collect $900,000 for its one-year contract with the Dominican government and $240,000 over a year from the Albanians, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ballard said his decision to expand to Washington was driven by his longstanding Florida clients, saying ‘Would you please open an office in Washington? We want to understand how the administration operates, how it works, what are the thought processes of the people behind it.’ ”
Ballard, who sits on the Republican National Committee’s finance committee, said knowing key administration players is “helpful” but he said his firm’s reputation as Florida’s largest lobbyist operation helped spur its rapid growth. He would not discuss his work for specific clients or whether he’s had contact with Trump or another administration officials. “We don’t talk about how we do our business,” Ballard said.
Fred Wertheimer, president of the watchdog group Democracy 21, said the lobbying activity by Trump allies demonstrates one “way Washington works to the disadvantage of the American people. You have individuals with close ties to elected officials who cash in on their relationships.”
“This represents the complete opposite of what candidate Trump repeatedly claimed he would do something about,” Wertheimer said of Trump’s repeated campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” in the nation’s capital.
‘GREAT TIME’ AT THE WHITE HOUSE
One lobbying and consulting startup makes no secret of its ties to the administration: Avenue Strategies, started last year by Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager, and other campaign advisers.
The firm’s website touts Lewandowski’s campaign role, describing him as overseeing “all aspects of a historic presidential campaign where Donald J. Trump won 38 Republican primaries and caucuses and received more votes than any presidential candidate in the history of the Republican Party.”
Lewandowski is not a registered federal lobbyist but others in the firm are. Avenue Strategies reported earning $140,000 during the first quarter of the year from five clients. They include the government of Puerto Rico, where a federally appointed board is charged with overseeing the territory’s efforts to dig out of its deep economic crisis.
Firm co-founder Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser who managed the presidential campaign of Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Ben Carson, said Avenue Strategies has dozens of other clients, who have hired the firm for consulting work that does not count as federal lobbying. More are in the pipeline, he said.
“Of course, it helps,” Bennett said of the principals’ ties to the Trump administration, “but I’ve been in town for almost 30 years as well. I think it’s probably a combo.”
Lewandowski continues to highlight his relationship to the president. On Wednesday, for instance, he tweeted a picture from the White House’s South Lawn. “Great time at the WH today with @realDonaldTrump and the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots!” he wrote.
Other pro-Trump lobbyists adding clients to their rosters include Bill Smith, who served as Pence’s chief of staff in Congress and the Indiana governor’s office. Smith’s firm reported earning $125,000 during the first three months of 2017 to represent five new corporate clients, including Microsoft and telecom giant AT&T.
Pence’s office is the only federal agency Smith has reported lobbying on clients’ behalf.
Among Smith’s tasks: Helping AT&T shape a planned cybersecurity executive order from Trump and working on the telecom giant’s proposed $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, which requires antitrust approval from the Justice Department. As a candidate, Trump voiced opposition to the merger, calling it an “example of the power structure I’m fighting.”
AT&T has spent nearly $4.6 million on federal lobbying in the first quarter. It also donated $2 million to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities, according to a recently filed inaugural committee fundraising report.
Neither Smith nor AT&T responded to interview requests.
Robert Grand, a veteran Indiana lobbyist and Pence supporter, added a dozen new Washington clients this year. So far, they have paid more than $600,000 in lobbying fees to his law and lobbying firm, Barnes & Thornburg, where he is managing partner. Clients include CVS Health, Ernst & Young and gun maker Sig Sauer, congressional records show.
Grand, a longtime GOP fundraiser, helped raise money for Trump’s inauguration and this month was named one of the Republican National Committee’s top regional fundraisers.
“When you have a Republican administration, the logical conclusion would be Republicans would have some increase in their practice,” Grand said in an interview. He said he hasn’t spoken with Pence about any of the issues on which he’s working.
More spending with Trump-aligned lobbyists is likely in the months ahead.
Stuart Jolly, who worked as Trump’s field director in the primaries, recently became president of the Sonoran Policy Group, and the firm has added New Zealand and the Czech Republic as international clients.
Indiana’s former Commerce secretary Victor Smith is a newly minted lobbyist and has signed up four clients so far in 2017. Gotham Government Relations, a Long Island lobbying and public relations firm that has done work for Trump for years and helped manage his presidential campaign announcement, registered five new federal clients in March and April.