As Donald Trump finishes his campaign with a promise to break the control of Washington by political insiders, his transition team is preparing to hand his administration over to a cozy clique of corporate lobbyists and Republican power brokers.
“Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by you the American people,” Trump says in his closing campaign advertisement, followed by flashing images of K Street, Wall Street, and Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein.
But the Trump transition team is a who’s who of influence peddlers, including: energy adviser Michael Catanzaro, a lobbyist for Koch Industries and the Walt Disney Company; adviser Eric Ueland, a Senate Republican staffer who previously lobbied for Goldman Sachs; and Transition General Counsel William Palatucci, an attorney in New Jersey whose lobbying firm represents Aetna and Verizon. Rick Holt, Christine Ciccone, Rich Bagger, and Mike Ferguson are among the other corporate lobbyists helping to manage the transition effort.
Presidential transition teams develop policy plans and come up with a list of more than 4,000 people an incoming president appoints, including White House jobs, cabinet secretaries, and lower level positions that oversee the military, agriculture, trade, and beyond.
Trump for America Inc., a nonprofit group chaired by Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., to oversee the Trump transition, has quietly moved ahead, meeting with interest groups and reaching out to lobbyists to plan a future Trump administration.
On Thursday, the group hosted a breakfast at Baker Hostetler attended by Microsoft’s Ed Ingle and Steve Hart, two lobbyists who, according to filings, have worked to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Other transition meetings have included briefings with the Financial Services Roundtable and the Investment Company Institute, two lobby groups that represent Wall Street interests, as well as with the BGR Group, a lobby firm that represents Saudi Arabia and the South Korean government.
Trump, of course, isn’t alone in relying on entrenched political insiders to shape his future administration. The Hillary Clinton transition team is led by Ken Salazar and Tom Donilon, two former Obama administration officials who now serve on the lobbying teams of major law firms. Though the Clinton campaign gained headlines for banning registered lobbyists from managing her transition, the distinction between registered and unregistered lobbying is largely a question of semantics.
Trump’s decision to embrace lobbyists while denouncing them on the campaign trail should come as no surprise to any seasoned observer.
The reality television mogul seized on distaste for big money politics as a potent campaign issue, denouncing the role of Super PACs during the Republican primaries. “I have disavowed all Super PACs,” Trump said, adding that he would oppose any support from lobbyists and other special interest groups. After shoring up the nomination, the candidate quickly reversed himself, not only raising cash from lobbyists but switching gears to aggressively embrace the same Super PAC strategies used by more traditional candidates. Several Trump staffers moved from his campaign to Super PACs supporting the Trump-Pence ticket.