Donald Trump has denounced his opponents as being controlled by “special interests, the lobbyists, and the donors,” but a number of pro-Trump delegates helped crush an effort by two members of the Republican Party’s rules committee last week to ban for-profit lobbyists from the Republican National Committee.
Republican state Reps. Mary Anne Kinney of Maine and Cindy Pugh of Minnesota introduced an amendment at a rules committee session that would ban registered lobbyists for for-profit entities from serving as members of the RNC.
“This amendment is meant to keep those with a financial stake in being on the RNC [out]. … Nonprofit lobbyists are exempt,” Ted Cruz delegate Kinney explained, saying that lobbyists for pro-life groups, for instance, would not be barred.
“As a state representative, I’ve witnessed firsthand the influence of paid lobbyists,” said Pugh, also elected as a Cruz delegate. “Our Republican Party should be giving voice to everyday, hardworking citizens, and not giving in to the voices of insider lobbyists.”
She went on to cite Trump’s own stated posture against lobbyists, and the influence of lobbyists on the Democratic Party — saying that “Republicans need to make a bold statement that we stand in contrast and have higher standards” than their opponents. (The DNC has welcomed lobbyists this year, in a change from the Obama era.)
An objection was raised by California delegate Harmeet Dhillon, who works as a corporate lawyer and serves as both a Trump delegate and a vice chair of the California GOP. “Banning people from participating in politics because of their chosen profession,” she said, is “un-American.”
“Once we single out lobbyists, we’re looking at singling out other potential disfavored professions. Such as plaintiffs lawyers, such as used car salesmen … such as farmers people don’t like,” she said. Kinney, the delegate from Maine, is a farmer.
“I truly believe that every state should be able to determine its representatives to the RNC. Whether that be three priests, three pastors, three lobbyists, three coal miners, or three coal miners from Southern West Virginia!” he said. “It’s a states’ rights issue.”
Gwen Bowen, a Louisiana Cruz delegate, praised the amendment for its optics. “There’s a lot of lobbyists on this committee right now, and you know we have a media watching,” she said. “And so we have an opportunity to say the Republican Party is the grassroots party. And it’s the grassroots people who are going to make the decisions for the rules — not the lobbyists, the paid lobbyists.”
Illinois delegate Demetra Demonte, who has voiced frustration with delegates who do not want to vote for Trump, called the amendment “well-intended” but “not practical. I think it’s going to open up a Pandora’s box.”
Oregon delegate Solomon Yue protested: “We have conflicts of interest here. … You have paid lobbyists, they are paid to lobby for a third party for profits and for favorable regulations. That is crony capitalism.” He said Trump would approve. “Take a look at our nominee Donald Trump’s message, how he got where he is today. I’m supporting this measure.”
But Maine’s Alexander Willet, who was tapped by the Trump campaign to put down any potential convention revolt, made her position clear: “It should be up to the individual states when electing their national committee folks when making that decision whether they want a registered lobbyist or not.”
After 45 minutes of debate, the committee voted down not only the amendment to bar lobbyists, but also an amendment to the amendment that simply would have required that they disclose their lobbying activities to the RNC. Both were defeated along a voice vote, meaning that there was no roll call. Asked for comment on the vote total, RNC spokesperson Audrey Scagnelli told The Intercept that the Kinney-Pugh amendment was defeated “overwhelmingly.”