The Trump administration has drawn flak for putting former lobbyists for big companies or heavyweight industries into key government jobs.
It’s hardly a new practice.
The chart above, based on data from OpenSecrets.org, shows how the current administration ranks vs. other presidencies in its links to lobbyists.
It gives the number of individuals in each administration who worked in what OpenSecrets.org calls “the influence industry” either before or after their government service. That means it covers registered and unregistered lobbyists.
The George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, which both lasted eight years, take the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, when it comes to sheer number of staffers with ties to lobbying. Compared to “Bush 43,” Trump’s time in office is just 25% as long (two years vs. eight), but the current president’s “revolvers” total from OpenSecrets.org is already 32% of Bush’s tally (326 vs. 1,029).
While people typically are more concerned about “lobbyists trading on their past experience in government to influence policy for their clients,” OpenSecrets.org’s figures aimed to “include all we could” by covering individuals who were lobbyists before entering government, said Dan Auble, senior researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics, the nonpartisan watchdog that runs the website.
“We try to cast a wide net and allow users to investigate and interpret the resulting data,” Auble told MarketWatch. “There have always been high-profile industry executives, lobbyists and various types of representatives who land in the Cabinet,” he also said, adding that former Goldman Sachs GS, +0.50% officials are “a notable and perennial example” of that. Individuals may get double-counted in OpenSecrets.org’s figures if they held more than one post in an administration.
The issue of an administration’s links to lobbyists has become a bigger concern in the Trump era, said Jeff Hauser, founder and director of the Revolving Door Project, which aims to scrutinize executive-branch appointments. His project is part of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank. Hauser put his rising level of worry on a scale of 1 to 10.
“It’s definitely gone from let’s say a 7 under Obama, such that revolving door concerns were significant but not the norm, to a 9.9 out of 10 under the Trump administration,” he told MarketWatch.
Another significant trend is “the short stints,” Hauser said. “It used to be the revolving door would mean like four years in government,” but Trump’s people “now are doing like six-month stints and rotating out.”
While it’s often argued that lobbyists or other industry insiders are the only ones that really have the expertise for key government posts, Hauser said he would like to see those jobs “go to people who have demonstrated professional interest in protecting the public interest.”
Criticisms of the Trump administration’s reliance on lobbyists have included this Jan. 2 tweet from a New York Times reporter that has drawn more than 59,000 likes:
As of Thursday, DOD will be run by a former senior Boeing executive. EPA is run by a former coal lobbyist. HHS is run by a former pharmaceutical lobbyist. And Interior will be run by a former oil-industry lobbyist. Welcome to 2019.
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) January 3, 2019
At a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, former coal-industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, Trump’s pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency, was described by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, as having his “thumb, wrist, forearm and elbow on the scales” in favor of fossil fuels. Wheeler already has been leading the EPA as acting administrator.
Republican lawmakers expressed support for Wheeler, with Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso reportedly saying he “will be a reasonable voice within the agency,” while North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer defended Wheeler’s experience. “Should we bar farmers from being the head of the Department of Agriculture?” Cramer asked.
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