Last November, a little more than a week after his election, Donald Trump attempted to deliver on his promise to “drain the swamp” by issuing a six-month ban on lobbying for those serving on his transition team, along with a five-year ban on lobbying for those appointed to his administration. As even Fox News noted at the time though, Sean Spicer, in his announcement of the new policy, “did not immediately explain how either ban would be enforced.”
Now we now why: There wasn’t any intention to enforce them. That’s clear now that we’re three months removed from the inauguration and Politico found at least nine former members of the transition team who have migrated to K Street.
Many are registered to lobby the same agencies or on the same issues they worked on during the transition, a POLITICO review of lobbying disclosures found. A former “sherpa” who helped to guide Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos through the Senate confirmation process is now registered to lobby her department. The former head of the transition’s tax policy team has returned to his old company to lobby Congress on tax reform. One ex-member of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative team is now registered as part of a team lobbying on behalf of a major steelmaker.
As Politico notes, with much generosity, the former transition team members may not be technically violating the ban, which only forbade them from becoming lobbyists on matters for which they “had direct and substantial responsibility.” Still, this is obviously a violation of the spirit of the ban. Exploiting a loophole in its language does little to alleviate the concerns that caused the Trump team to put it in place in the first place.
Of course, it’s probably more appropriate to blame those who wrote the ineffective ban than those exploiting its loopholes. Can’t blame frogs for refusing to leave a swamp when the guy who promised to exterminate them is handing out lily pads.