Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Note: The Associated Press has reported that the U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing to award a permanent water supply contract to the Westlands Water District, a powerful California water agency that supplies water to large, corporate farming operations. Until 2016, the same water district employed David Bernhardt as a lobbyist, who became Interior Secretary earlier this year.
Public Citizen waged a campaign to highlight Bernhardt’s many conflicts of interest and opposed his confirmation, and has filed an ethics complaint calling on the department to investigate whether Bernhardt, as acting secretary, violated an ethics executive order issued by President Donald Trump. Public Citizen also filed a complaint on March 20, 2018, expressing concern about Bernhardt’s involvement as deputy secretary in issues on which he previously lobbied.
Bernhardt might as well still work for his former lobbying firm, where he represented oil and gas, mining and agribusiness interests for many years. If Bernhardt would like to return to his former lobbying job at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and pursue the interests of his corporate clients, he certainly is free to do so, subject to the ethics rules. But for now, he is secretary of the Interior, and his duty is to serve the public, not his old clients.
If anyone still has any illusions that Trump is working to “drain the swamp” or “take on elites,” here is the definitive proof that it ain’t so. A former lobbyist delivering the goods for his old lobby clients is about as corrupt as it gets. Bernhardt is fast making a play for title of “Shadiest Trump Cabinet Official.”