President-elect Donald Trump, who campaigned against the corrupt power of special interests, is filling his transition team with some of the very sort of people who he has complained have too much clout in Washington: corporate consultants and lobbyists.
Jeffrey Eisenach, a consultant who has worked for years on behalf of Verizon and other telecommunications clients, is the head of the team that is helping to pick staff members at the Federal Communications Commission.
Michael Catanzaro, a lobbyist whose clients include Devon Energy and Encana Oil and Gas, holds the “energy independence” portfolio.
Michael Torrey, a lobbyist who runs a firm that has earned millions of dollars helping food industry players such as the American Beverage Association and the dairy giant Dean Foods, is helping set up the new team at the Department of Agriculture.
Trump was swept to power in large part by white working-class voters who responded to his vow to restore the voices of forgotten people, ones drowned out by big business and Wall Street. But in his transition to power, some of the most prominent voices will be those of advisers who come from the same industries for which they are being asked to help set the regulatory groundwork.
The president-elect’s spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, declined a request for comment, as did nearly a dozen corporate executives, consultants and lobbyists serving on his transition team, which was outlined in a list distributed widely in Washington on Thursday.
A number of the people on that list are well-established experts with no clear interest in helping private-sector clients. But to critics of Trump — both Democrats and Republicans — the inclusion of advisers with industry ties is a first sign that he may not follow through on all of his promises.
“This whole idea that he was an outsider and going to destroy the political establishment and drain the swamp were the lines of a con man, and guess what — he is being exposed as just that,” said Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before becoming a speechwriter for George W. Bush. “He is failing the first test. And he should be held accountable for it.”
Transition teams help new presidents pick the new Cabinet, as well as up to 4,000 political appointees who will take over top posts in agencies across the government. President Barack Obama, after he was first elected, instituted rules that prohibited individuals who had served as a registered lobbyist in the prior year from serving as a transition adviser in the areas in which they represented private clients. They were also prohibited, after the administration took power, from lobbying in the parts of the government they helped set up.
“They wanted to make sure that people were not putting their thumb on the scale, or even the perception of that,” said Martha Joynt Kumar, the director of a nonprofit group called the White House Transition Project, which has studied two decades of presidential transitions.
Among the advisers assisting Trump who have no clear private-sector ties are Brian Johnson, a top lawyer for the House Financial Services Committee, who is helping to pick top staff members for the federal government’s many financial services agencies.
Edwin Meese, who served as attorney general under Reagan and is associated with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, is helping oversee management and budget issues, along with Kay Coles James, a Bush administration official who runs an institute that trains future African-American leaders.
Former Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until 2014 and was once a special agent in the FBI, is overseeing issues related to national security, including the intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security.
But in other areas, most notably the energy sector, the transition team advisers are far from independent.
Catanzaro’s client list is a who’s who of major corporate players — such as the Hess Corp. and Devon Energy — that have tried to challenge the Obama administration’s environmental and energy policies on issues such as how much methane gas can be released at oil and gas drilling sites, lobbying disclosure reports show.
He also worked with oil industry players to help push through major legislation goals, such as allowing the export of crude oil. He will now help pick Trump’s energy team.
Michael McKenna, another lobbyist helping to pick key administration officials who will oversee energy policy, has a client list that this year has included the Southern Co., one of the most vocal critics of efforts to prevent climate change by putting limits on emissions from coal-burning power plants.
Advisers with ties to other industries include Martin Whitmer, who is overseeing “transportation and infrastructure” for the Trump transition. He is the chairman of a Washington law firm whose lobbying clients include the Association of American Railroads and the National Asphalt Pavement Association.
David Malpass, the former chief economist at Bear Stearns, the Wall Street investment bank that collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis, is overseeing the “economic issues” portfolio of the transition, as well as operations at the Treasury Department. Malpass runs a firm called Encima Global, which sells economic research to institutional investors and corporate clients.
Eisenach, as a telecommunications industry consultant, has worked to help major cellular companies fight back against regulations proposed by the FCC that would mandate so-called net neutrality — requiring providers to give equal access to their networks to outside companies. He is helping to oversee the rebuilding of the staff at the FCC.
Dan DiMicco, a former chief executive of the steelmaking company Nucor, who serves on the board of directors of Duke Energy, is heading the transition team for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. DiMicco has long argued that China is unfairly subsidizing its manufacturing sector at the expense of U.S. jobs.
In his campaign, Trump promised to take steps to close the so-called revolving door, through which government officials leave their posts and then personally profit by helping private companies reap rewards from policies or programs they had recently managed.
In October, declaring that “it’s time to drain the swamp in Washington,” he promised to institute a five-year ban in which all executive branch officials would be prevented from lobbying the government after they left. He has also promised to expand the definition of a lobbyist so that it includes corporate consultants who do not register as lobbyists but still often act like one.
Bruce Freed, the president of a nonprofit group called the Center for Political Accountability, which is pressing major corporations to be more transparent about their political spending, said Trump’s transition team had sent an unfortunate signal to his followers.
“This is one of the reasons you had such anger among voters — people rigging the system, gaming the system,” Freed said. “This represents more of the same.”
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