COVID Lobbying Palooza

Lobbyists Who Worked for Trump’s Campaigns, Committees and Administration Are Feasting on the Public Health Emergency

By Mike Tanglis and Taylor Lincoln

Download the full report 1.6 MB

Key Findings

  • At least 40 lobbyists who are connected to President Donald J. Trump through his campaigns, inaugural committee, presidential transition team, or his administration [hereinafter Trump-connected lobbyists] have thus far lobbied on COVID-19 issues or indicated that they have signed up clients to do so.
  • Trump-connected lobbyists collectively have represented at least 150 clients on COVID matters. Trump-connected lobbyists from a single firm (Brownstein Hyatt Faber Schreck) have represented at least 45 clients on COVID issues.
  • At least 14 clients represented by Trump-connected lobbyists are working on COVID vaccines, therapeutics or tests.
  • Twenty-seven clients of Trump-connected lobbyists have received federal COVID aid, totaling more than $10.5 billion. This consists of $6.3 billion in grants, $4.2 billion in loans and $67 million worth of support in the form of corporate bond purchases by the Federal Reserve. These numbers are likely a gross undercount due to lagging disclosure by the Trump administration.
  • The Trump-connected lobbyists include at least 20 people who worked in the administration or provided special services for the administration; 11 alumni of the Trump presidential transition team; eight members of Trump’s campaigns; six people who raise money for Trump; and three vice chairs of Trump’s scandal-ridden inaugural committee. (Some lobbyists have multiple connections.)
  • Trump fundraisers lobbying on COVID issues include the national co-chairman of the Trump Victory Committee and two lobbyists who have combined to “bundle” more than $5 million for Trump and the Republican National Committee for 2020.
  • Trump-connected lobbyists have given more than $1 million out of their own pockets to federal candidates this election cycle.
  • At least five COVID lobbyists may have violated a Trump executive order that restricts lobbying activities by appointees who leave the administration. Public Citizen is calling for an investigation.
  • The facts in this report call for short- and long-term responses to combat favoritism and potential corruption. The Trump administration should immediately disclose details of COVID-related federal spending to the fullest extent possible. Future administrations should work with Congress to codify tighter restrictions on former officials engaging in federal lobbying, increase the detail of lobbying disclosure requirement, and enact a viable form of public funding of elections.

Executive Summary

As the rest of the nation hunkered down to survive the coronavirus, members of Washington, D.C.’s lobbying industry sprang into action.

Federal lobbying expenditures in the first quarter of 2020 roughly equaled the all-time record for a single quarter, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.[1] Lobbyists reported working on behalf of more than 3,200 clients on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and other COVID-related issues during the quarter.[2] This statistic is even more striking given that the public-policy response to the coronavirus did not begin in earnest until March, the final month of the first quarter.

The crisis offered an especially lucrative opportunity for those lobbyists who enjoy close ties to President Donald Trump and his administration – and they seized it. They have reported lobbying to obtain special industry carveouts for aid, government approval of their clients’ products and, most commonly, COVID-related aid across a myriad of programs.

COVID Business Is Booming for Lobbyists With Close Ties to Trump

At least 40 lobbyists with ties to Trump’s political enterprises or the administration have lobbied or registered to lobby on COVID-related matters. They include:

  • At least 20 lobbyists who previously served in the Trump administration or performed specialized services for Trump or the administration, including:

– A director of legislative affairs for Vice President Mike Pence;

– An employee of Trump’s National Security Council;

– A chief of staff to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao;

– A director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Office of Legislation;

– A deputy assistant secretary for legislation in the Department of Health and Human Services;

– In the Department of the Treasury: a counselor to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a senior Treasury Department advisor, and a deputy assistant secretary;

– A senior counsel in the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality;

– A principal deputy general counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development;

– At least two people whom Trump has appointed to federal commissions or board positions, including one whom Bloomberg characterized as an “outside presidential advisor;”[3]

– The “quarterback” of the effort to win approval of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch; and

–  A member of the legal team representing Trump in his impeachment trial;

  • At least 11 people who served on Trump’s presidential transition team, including its chief spokesman, Jason Miller;
  • At least six people who raise money for Trump’s political committees. These include the national co-chairman of the Trump Victory Committee, which is the primary fundraising apparatus for Trump’s 2020 campaign. Other fundraisers include two “bundlers” who are credited with raising more than $5 million, combined, for Trump Victory and the Republican National Committee; and
  • At least three people who served on Trump’s inaugural committee. That committee, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2018, is under criminal investigation. The committee “has publicly identified vendors accounting for” only “$61 million of the $103 million it spent,” the Journal[4] A Trump-connected lobbyist also lobbied on COVID matters for the private equity firm Colony Capital. Colony Capital is run by Tom Barrack, who managed the inaugural committee.

Trump-connected Lobbyists Are Representing at Least 14 Clients Working on Coronavirus Vaccines, Therapeutics or Tests

Clients of Trump-connected lobbyists that are producing pharmaceutical products or tests to address the coronavirus include:

  • AbbVie, which is testing its HIV treatment as a treatment for coronavirus.[5] It is represented on COVID matters by Emily Felder, who served as director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Office of Legislation in the Trump administration, and now works for Brownstein Hyatt;
  • Arcturus Therapeutics Inc., a firm that is working on a COVID vaccine. It is being represented by Barry Bennett of Avenue Strategies. Bennett was part of Trump’s 2016 campaign;
  • AdvaMed, a medical device trade association whose members include several firms working on COVID-related matters.[6] Two Trump-connected lobbyists for Brownstein Hyatt are representing it on COVID matters. AdvaMed’s members include those making COVID tests, potential COVID vaccines and potential COVID therapeutics. AdvaMed’s members also include at least two companies that produce hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that Trump incessantly touted as a potential coronavirus cure until studies showed it did more harm than good;
  • American Health Associates, which provides mobile laboratory services for nursing homes and is being represented by Brian Ballard. Ballard was a Trump transition team member, inaugural committee vice chair and is one of Trump’s top fundraisers. Ballard Partners, which had not lobbied in Washington until Trump’s election, now has the most clients of all federal lobbying firms;
  • BacterioScan, which makes diagnostic products aimed at more rapidly detecting microbial infections. It is being represented by Robert Collins, who served on Trump’s transition team and acted as the “quarterback” of the nomination process for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch;
  • Beckman Coulter Diagnostics, which is working on an antibody test. It is represented on COVID matters by two Trump-connected lobbyists who work for Brownstein Hyatt;
  • Eli Lilly, which is testing a COVID antibody in humans, and is represented by two Trump-connected lobbyists who work for Brownstein Hyatt;[7]
  • Genentech, represented by David Urban, who was a high-ranking member of Trump’s 2016 campaign and has been described by Bloomberg as an “outside presidential advisor.” Genentech is developing a drug to treat COVID-19 pneumonia, and is the parent company of Roche, which makes COVID tests;[8]
  • GreyScan, an Australian company that is represented by Jessica Tocco of A10 Associated. Tocco was a member of Trump’s transition team. GreyScan is developing a mobile COVID detection device.[9] Tocco, according to A10’s lobbying disclosure form, lobbied 10 federal entities, including the White House and Office of the Vice President, within a week of registering to represent GreyScan.
  • Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which hired Robert Wasinger to lobby on “advocacy and education for development of the Coronavirus vaccine.” Wasinger was the director of Senate and gubernatorial outreach for Trump’s 2016 campaign and has bundled more than $20,000 for Trump’s 2020 campaign;
  • Johnson & Johnson, which is working on a COVID vaccine. It is represented by two Trump-connected lobbyists working for Brownstein Hyatt;
  • Origin Logistics LLC, which offers laboratory testing services. It is represented by two Trump-connected lobbyists working for Ballard Partners;
  • Nuclein, which announced in March that it was seeking to commercialize a hand-held device that could be used to diagnose coronavirus. It is represented by two Trump-connected lobbyists at Miller Strategies. These include Jeff Miller, who was a vice chair of Trump’s inaugural committee and is a top Trump fundraiser;[10] and
  • Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which was selected by the government as among the five firms most likely to develop a COVID vaccine, also is represented on COVID matters by Jeff Miller.

Clients Touting Technology and Non-Pharmaceutical Health Products in Response to the Coronavirus

Several Trump-connected lobbyists are working on information technology systems or other non-pharmaceutical products, such as sanitizers, to address coronavirus threats. Examples include:

  • Audacious Inquiry, which pitched Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on an artificial intelligence system that would use patient records to determine the availability of hospital beds and needed medical supplies.[11] Brian Ballard is representing the firm;
  • Envigo RMS Holding Corp, which touts an array of research tools to combat coronavirus. It is represented by Robert Grand of Barnes and Thornburg. Grand is a longtime fundraiser for Vice President Mike Pence and was a co-chair of Trump’s inaugural committee.[12] Grand is so close to Pence and the administration that Trump’s campaign and a super PAC controlled by Pence have paid for Grand’s travel on Air Force 2.[13]
  • Joerns Healthcare, a medical equipment manufacturer that is being represented by Robert Wasinger;
  • Panacea Life Sciences, which recently began making hand sanitizer, and also is represented by Wasinger;
  • NanoPure, which is seeking EPA approval for a misting spray that it said could kill coronavirus,[14] and is represented by two Trump-connected lobbyists for Ballard Partners. NanoPure’s CEO expressed optimism on winning approval to a reporter for Mother Jones who wrote about the firm’s retention of Ballard Partners. “We’re getting close,” the CEO said, “and we’re talking to the right people now.”[15]
  • Pernod Ricard, maker of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and other well-known alcoholic drinks, which announced in March that it would produce hand sanitizer to address COVID-related needs. Three Trump-connected employees of Miller Strategies worked on COVID issues for the Pernod Ricard in the first quarter of 2020. A Pernod Ricard executive credited the White House coronavirus task force with expediting regulatory approvals needed to begin production. Days after Pernod Ricard announced its plans to make hand sanitizer, Trump raved about the company at a White House briefing.[16]
  • SAS, which is marketing predictive analytics technology to help hospitals and governments “optimize medical resources so citizens get the best health outcomes possible.” It is represented by two Trump-connected lobbyists at Miller Strategies.
  • Seal Shield, which makes sanitary devices, is being represented by two Trump-connected lobbyists at Ballard Partners. On April 24, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Seal Shield to stop selling a product to hospitals “because Seal Shield has made false or misleading claims that the device kills pathogens and is effective against the novel coronavirus.”[17] On April 28, Seal Shield hired Ballard Partners to pursue “Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval for marketing materials.”[18]

Clients Offering Non-Medical Products and Services Suited to the Coronavirus Economy

Several companies that are selling products that are well-suited to the coronavirus economy have hired Trump-connected lobbyists. Examples include:

  • Cognizant Technology Solutions, a maker of virtual workplace solutions, which is represented by David Urban;
  • Endurance International Group, Inc., a provider of cloud-based platforms, which is being represented by two lobbyists at Avenue Strategies: Barry Bennett (mentioned above) and Bud Cummins. Cummins was the Arkansas State Chairman for the Trump-Pence campaign in 2016 and a Trump whip at the 2016 Republican National Convention;
  • Hazmat TSDF Inc., a California-based recycling and waste disposal company. It hired Aaron Szabo and others at CGCN Group to lobby on “issues related to the proper and safe cleanup and disposal” of coronavirus materials. Szabo is a former senior counsel in the Trump White House’s Council on Environmental Quality;
  • OnDeck Capital Inc., which is an approved lender under the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program that was created by the CARES Act. It is represented by Jared Sawyer, who served as deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Treasury during the Trump administration; and
  • Fountainhead Commercial Capital, which is also making loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.[19] It is represented by Jason Miller, who was the chief spokesman for the 2016 Trump campaign and the presidential transition team.

Clients Seeking Essential Industry Status

Being defined as within a critical or essential industry can allow businesses to continue operating despite the pandemic and may give them some defense against lawsuits for unreasonably endangering workers or the public. At least four entities have hired Trump-connected lobbyists to help win such designation:

Examples include:

  • LaundryLux, a supplier of commercial laundry machines, which hired Ballard Partners for the purpose of helping the laundry industry receive federal “designation as essential business in response to COVID-19 virus.”[20] As this timeline shows, Ballard Partners apparently delivered: On March 19, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo that did not include laundry services among the categories of “essential businesses.”[21] On March 20, Ballard Partners registered to lobby for LaundryLux.[22] On March 28, DHS issued a follow up memo that listed “workers in laundromats, laundry services, and dry cleaners” as essential.[23] Agencies Ballard Partners lobbied were the Department of Homeland Security and the White House Office;[24]
  • Energizer Holdings Inc., the battery manufacturer, hired Scott Mason and others at Holland & Knight in March 2020 to lobby the White House and Department of Homeland Security on issues including pursuing critical industry status for the battery industry.[25] Mason worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign as the director of congressional relations and later worked on the Trump transition team;
  • Evoqua Water Technologies hired Martin Whitmer, of Whitmer & Worrall, to lobby for Evoqua to be categorized as an essential business.[26] Whitmer served as the team lead for President Trump’s transition team for the Department of Transportation. On an earnings call in April 2020, Evoqua said it was an “essential business that continues to operate during the COVID-19 global pandemic, providing mission critical water service and support to both government and private water systems;”
  • The National Association of Realtors, which has lobbied the Department of Homeland Security to include real estate as an essential service, a designation the industry received. The chief lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors is Shannon McGahn. McGahn worked in 2017 and 2018 as a counselor to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.[27] She is the wife of former Trump White House Counsel Don McGahn.[28]

Some of the Biggest Players in the Private Equity Industry Are Represented

Private equity firms have been reported to have been left out of the CARES Act’s government subsidies because the some of the benefits called for are available only to firms of 500 employees or fewer, not including those controlled by larger enterprises.[29]

But private equity firms’ holdings have received substantial direct aid, as well as all sorts of other benefits from the CARES Act. The companies in which private equity firms are invested will enjoy increased flexibility to carryback operating losses to past years to reduce their taxes, ability to apply interest expenses to reduce their taxes, ability to defer employer payroll taxes, and receive credits for retaining employees.[30]

At least two Trump-connected lobbyists are representing the American Investment Council, the trade association for the private equity industry.

Many of the largest private equity firms or their holdings are represented by Trump-connected lobbyists who have reported working on COVID-related issues. Included among them are Blackstone Group, Apollo Global Management and Kohlberg Kravis, all three of which are commonly listed among the 10 largest private equity firms.[31]

Trump-connected lobbyists for Brownstein Hyatt are also lobbying on COVID matters for three affiliates of private-equity firm Apollo Global Management, as well as at least three companies that are owned or partially owned by Apollo.[32] Companies owned by Apollo have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants and loans. One of those companies is LifePoint Health, which has received $260 million in federal COVID grants and $504 million in federal COVID loans.[33]

An insidious nature of government support for private equity firms, at least so long as the support does not come with limiting conditions, is that it could enable private equity firms to buy more health care providers, further consolidating a market that is already suffering from depleted competition. “Some feared that lending money to private equity firms would only encourage their penchant for buying more companies and loading them up with high-interest debt,” Bloomberg reported.

Clients of Trump-Connected Lobbyists Have Received More than $10.5 Billion in COVID Assistance

The most tangible benefit that the clients of Trump-connected lobbyists have received are grants and low-interest loans from the federal government. The Federal Reserve has also begun purchasing the corporate bonds of some of the clients discussed in this analysis. With the help of COVID Stimulus Watch (https://covidstimuluswatch.org), a project of Good Jobs First, we have tabulated more than $10.5 billion in grants and loans. Twenty-seven different clients represented by Trump-connected lobbyists have received COVID funds. These figures include little data from the $500 billion-plus Paycheck Protection Program, which the government only recently agreed to partially disclose.

Trump-Connected Lobbyists Have Bundled More Than $5 Million for Trump and the RNC This Cycle

Jeff Miller has bundled close to $4 million in this election cycle, while Brian Ballard has bundled more than $1 million. All of Miller and Ballard’s bundled contributions have gone to either President Trump’s 2020 “Victory” committee or to the Republican National Committee.[34]

Eight Trump-connected lobbyists have each contributed more than $100,000 to federal candidates since 2010. Brian Ballard contributed more than $1 million, the most of any Trump-connected lobbyist. Ballard is followed by Marc Lampkin, of Brownstein, Hyatt, who contributed $540,217 and Jeff Miller, who has contributed $475,450.

Total contributions from lobbyists in this report jumped 85 percent from the 2016 election cycle to the 2018 cycle, from $510,346 to $943,247, and already exceed $1 million for this cycle.

At Least Five COVID Lobbyists May Have Violated a Trump Executive Order That Restricts Lobbying Activities by Former Officials

To much fanfare, Trump issued an executive order about one week into his presidency that established some prohibitions on the activities of lobbyists, whom Trump had demonized as part of his promise to “drain the swamp.”[35]

The executive order prohibited Trump appointees who leave the administration from engaging in any lobbying activities, including behind the scenes lobbying work, that involved their former agencies for five years after leaving the government. The executive order also prohibited those leaving the Trump administration from engaging in any lobbying activities, including work on behalf of their colleagues, that involved contact with most high-ranking executive branch officials for the duration of the administration.

Lobbying disclosure forms are not sufficiently precise, in most cases, to determine if violations have occurred. However, at least five Trump-appointees have appeared on forms indicating that they and their peers lobbied the executive branch on COVID issues. In many cases, the forms indicate that the former officials’ agencies were directly lobbied.

Investigation is warranted.

Conclusion

The facts in this report call for short-term and long-term responses to sever the conflicts of interest that incentivize government officials to favor the wealthy and well-connected over the constituents whom they are hired to serve. The Trump administration should do everything in its power to enhance public disclosure of the details of COVID-related federal spending. Future administrations should work with Congress to codify tighter restrictions on former officials engaging in federal lobbying activities; vastly increase the detail of lobbying disclosure rules; and approve a system that would permit viable candidates for office to receive public funding in exchange for eschewing large private contributions.

[1] Karl Evers-Hillstrom, Coronavirus stimulus spurs near-record first-quarter lobbying spending, Center for Responsive Politics (April 24, 2020), https://bit.ly/2Z3LFqU.

[2] Id.

[3] Jennifer Jacobs tweet (June 13, 2020), https://bit.ly/2A8r2S0.

[4] Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation by Federal Prosecutors, The Wall Street Journal, https://on.wsj.com/2NsRY1P.

[5] AbbVie web site (viewed on June 29, 2020), https://bit.ly/3dGBxtz.

[6] AdvaMed members, https://bit.ly/2BGiiTk.

[7] Ben Adams, Lilly starts second COVID-19 antibody test with partner Junshi Biosciences, eyes combo trials, Fierce Biotech (June 8, 2020), https://bit.ly/2CJQwpT.

[8] Roche web site (viewed on June 26, 2020), https://bit.ly/2BDDhXa and https://bit.ly/2Zd2XSF.

[9] GreyScan web site (viewed on June 26, 2020), https://bit.ly/2Yz8ZOd.

[10] Press release, Nuclein, Nuclein Speeds Commercialization of First Ever Hand-Held PCR Test to Aid in COVID-19 Pandemic (March 24, 2020), https://bloom.bg/3fWQQ2D.

[11] Adam Cancryn, Kushner’s team seeks national coronavirus surveillance system, Politico (April 7, 2020< https://politi.co/2A2rEbG.

[12] Nolan D. Mccaskill, Trump announces inauguration team leaders, Politico (Nov. 15, 2016), https://politi.co/2VjsEQ3.

[13] Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Anu Narayanswamy, Pence turns VP’s office into gateway for lobbyists to influence the Trump administration, Washington Post (June15, 2018), https://wapo.st/2ViuBwp.

[14] Kenneth P. Vogel, The Race for Virus Money Is On. Lobbyists Are Standing By, The New York Times (March 28, 2020), https://nyti.ms/2BBaB11.

[15] Dan Friedman, How a Trump-Connected Lobbyist Is Cashing In on the Coronavirus, Mother Jones (June 18, 2020), https://bit.ly/3i3KEb6.

[16] C-Span Clip (March 21, 2020), https://cs.pn/2Vij5RI.

[17] Press release, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Issues Order to Seal Shield, LLC in Orlando, Florida to Stop Selling Unregistered Pesticides and a Misbranded Pesticide Device (April 24, 2020), https://web.archive.org/web/20200424202421/https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-issues-order-seal-shield-llc-orlando-florida-stop-selling-unregistered-pesticides.

[18] Lobbying disclosure records maintained by the secretary of the Senate, https://bit.ly/2B9wnZL.

[19] John Reosti, As PPP deadline approaches, a few lenders make a final push, American Banker (June 09, 2020), https://bit.ly/3eCQxcY.

[20] Lobbying disclosure records maintained by the secretary of the Senate, https://bit.ly/38ctHXc.

[21] Advisory Memorandum On Identification Of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During Covid-19 Response, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (March 19, 2020), https://bit.ly/3gdITpS.

[22] Lobbying registration records maintained by the secretary of the Senate, https://bit.ly/38ctHXc.

[23] Advisory Memorandum On Identification Of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During Covid-19 Response, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (March 28, 2020), https://bit.ly/2AZFwUN.

[24] Lobbying disclosure records maintained by the secretary of the Senate, https://bit.ly/2B0KIYz.

[25] Lobbying disclosure records maintained by the secretary of the Senate, https://bit.ly/2A2EXZI.

[26] Lobbying disclosure records maintained by the secretary of the Senate, https://bit.ly/2Nwht2q.

[27] Marianne Levine and Theodoric Meyer, National Association of Realtors names Shannon McGahn as top lobbyist, Politico (Oct. 2, 2018), https://politi.co/2NsUncR.

[28] Treasury aide McGahn, wife of White House counsel, to leave for House panel, The Hill (Jan. 5, 2018), https://bit.ly/2NG3pDx.

[29] Cares Act: ‘Affiliation’ – Can Private Equity Or Venture Capital Owned Small Businesses Obtain Paycheck Protection? Morgan Lewis (March 30, 2020), https://bit.ly/2NGCXK5.

[30] The CARES Act: Tax implications for transactions and private-equity-owned portfolio companies, Plante Moran (April 13, 2020), https://bit.ly/2YwPrd7.

[31] Top 10 Private Equity Firms, CFI (viewed on June 26, 2020), https://bit.ly/31eoY64.

[32] David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby, Private Equity Lands Billion-Dollar Backdoor Hospital Bailout KKR, Apollo, Cerberus own medical-services companies that received no-interest loans from HHS, Bloomberg (June 2, 2020), https://bloom.bg/2BIup2c.

[33] COVID Stimulus Watch (viewed on June 29, 2020), https://bit.ly/2BcPgLp.

[34] Trump Victory form, Federal Election Commission (April 15, 2020), https://bit.ly/2YzfdgQ.

[35] Executive Order: Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees, The White House (Jan. 28, 2017), https://bit.ly/3dwVYcb.