Donald Trump’s Economic Policy Team Is Stacked With Lobbyists and Conflicts of Interest

Some of Trump's latest hires are lobbyists for the industries they are now supposed to advise the president on how to regulate.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13:  Storm clouds fill the sky over the U.S. Capitol Building, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Potentially damaging storms are forecasted to hit parts of the east coast with potential for causing power wide spread outages.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Storm clouds fill the sky over the U.S. Capitol Building, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s personnel selections have made a complete mockery of his promise to “drain the swamp.” A newly-released list of White House staffers on his National Economic Council — which is helmed by former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn — is a case in point. Among them are lobbyists for the industries they are now supposed to advise the president on regulating. Here’s how various realms of economic-related policy will be overseen by lobbyists:

Net Neutrality Policy

In his first week as president, Trump elevated conservative Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Ajit Pai to the role of chair. Pai is a longstanding opponent of net neutrality, the principle that says that Internet Service Providers must give all content equal treatment — denying them the ability to, for example, speed up traffic to certain websites for a fee.

The administration continued this march against net neutrality on Monday, as Grace Koh was named as special assistant to the president for technology, telecom, and cybersecurity policy. Koh comes to the White House most recently from the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, where she served as deputy counsel. But prior to that, she was employed as policy counsel at the lobbying office for Cox Enterprises, the Atlanta-based cable and Internet-providing company.

Cox is a leading opponent of rules that protect the rights of internet consumers. When the Obama-era FCC voted to protect net neutrality in 2015, the company slammed the move as “unnecessary government overreach.”

Even after Koh became a congressional staffer, internet providers continued to appreciate her work: The industry group Women in Cable Telecommunications awarded her its Touchstones of Leadership Public Policy Award in 2015.

Retirement Policy

Another of Trump’s first moves as president was to sign an executive order to delay the implementation of the Obama administration’s “fiduciary rule,” and to allow his administration to examine and possibly alter it.

The fiduciary rule is designed to require retirement advisers to act in the interests of their clients — rather than their own interests. It’s estimated that conflicted advice costs Americans $17 billion a year.

In order to help advise him on how to deal with retirement security policy, Trump hired Shahira Knight, whose previous role was vice president in the public affairs and policy group at Fidelity Investments — in other words, a lobbyist for a major investment advice firm.

Congressional Republicans unsuccessfully tried to overturn the fiduciary rule last year, blocked by a veto from President Obama. During their policy push, they brought in a number of finance industry lobbyists to brief their staff — including Knight.

Environmental Policy

President Trump tapped an ally of fossil fuel companies to lead his Environmental Protection Agency. For his economic team, Trump is bringing in staffers who used to lobby for the energy industry.

George David Banks was named as the special assistant to the president for international energy and environment. He was a registered lobbyist for the Maryland-based natural gas and electric company Constellation, Ohio-based diversified energy company FirstEnergy, and the Nuclear Energy Institute, which promotes nuclear power.

More recently, he was the executive vice president at the American Council for Capital Formation, a trade association that has been financially backed by the Kochs among others. As a part of his role there, he lobbied Congress against putting a tax on carbon pollution.

The White House also appointed Michael Catanzaro as the special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy. Catanzaro was a lobbyist for the CGCN Group, where he lobbied for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, among others.

Top photo: Storm clouds fill the sky over the U.S. Capitol Building, June 13, 2013, in Washington.

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