Lobbying & Corruption in Trump Admin

Lobbying & Corruption in Trump Admin

To make information about Trump’s use of public office for private gain more accessible, The American Prospect has created an interactive map:

“Mapping Corruption: Donald Trump’s Executive Branch”

The executive summary begins with a few examples of eyebrow-raising brazenness, such as spending one-third of his presidency at his own hotels and “Ivanka Trump snags a valuable set of Chinese trademarks on the same day she dines with Xi Jinping. Kellyanne Conway hawks Ivanka’s products in TV interviews.” The Trumps have openly profiteered from Trump’s presidency. However, the authors maintain, these surface cash-ins distract public attention from worse crimes.

The Trump Administration takes the corrupting influence of money in politics to its logical conclusions, and much of the executive summary of the interactive map (we’re only discussing the executive summary in this overview) involves uberexamples of the kind of technically-not-bribery bribery that will to some degree undermine US American democracy until we enact adequate campaign finance and lobbying reforms.

Campaign/lobbying reform is needed to push our democracy in a more healthy and sustainable direction. But first we have to keep Trump from completely destroying our democracy. The complete corporate hand-over of we US citizen’s largest public good (our shared government and its resources) is just one prong of how Trump’s actions undermine democracy.

When you read the below consider whether the policy decisions are in the public interest, or even in Trump’s interest. Who’s benefitting and why is Trump helping them?

The payday lending industry gave an “estimated $2.2 million donated by payday groups to the Trump campaign and inaugural committees during the 2016 election cycle”. The Trump administration cancelled “an Obama-era plan to protect borrowers from being sucked into long-term debt at triple-digit interest”.

Mike Hodges, CEO of Advance Financial:

{Q “I’ve gone to [Republican National Committee chair] Ronna McDaniel and said, ‘Ronna, I need help on something,’” Hodges said on an industry webinar. “She’s been able to call over to the White House and say, ‘Hey, we have one of our large givers. They need an audience.’”}

The private prison industry—in dire straits after the Obama Justice Department, in response to a series of scandals, began phasing out federal use of private prisons—donated $575,000 to the newly elected Trump, and “a month after Inauguration Day, Sessions revoked the Obama-era guidance, by which time GEO’s stock market value had doubled, and CoreCivic’s was up 140 percent.” [GEO & CoreCivic are the Department of Homeland Security’s two biggest private prison providers.] Per the report, the private prison industry have provided Trump with “roughly $1 million in contributions to his election and re-election campaigns, at last count.”

After highlighting several examples like the above two, the executive summary of the American Prospect provides a long but “partial” list of former industry lobbyists heading agencies charged with keeping them in check (“the former coal lobbyist charged with protecting our air and water, …” etc).

The executive summary then gives several instances of corrupt-seeming behavior by heads of various departments in the Trump administration. At some point when an area stinks and stinks and stinks like a swamp, it is time to admit that what you are smelling is indeed a swamp.

Wilbur Ross, secretary of commerce: “before selling his stake in [shipping company] Navigator, which happens to own ‘the world’s largest fleet of natural gas carriers,’ Ross personally negotiated a deal to facilitate the export of American-produced liquefied natural gas to China. The ethics officer who signed off on Ross’s continued investment got a promotion.”

Betsy DeVos, secretary of education has not enforced “a presidential demand for measures to ease the impact of $1.5 trillion in ballooning student debt on millions of recent college attendees and the state of the economy. DeVos, whose department would have to implement this directive, has essentially ignored it; and Trump, whose re-election prospects depend on her money and Michigan campaign ties, has done nothing to force the issue.”

Steve Mnuchin (Goldman Sachs – see the summary for his role in the subprime collapse and his for-profit exploitation of the disaster): “as head of the Financial Stability Oversight Council and leader of the agency overseeing the IRS, Mnuchin became the administration’s point man in efforts to weaken bank regulations, obscure scrutiny of financial activities, and provide favorable tax rulings for wealthy individuals and businesses—an expanse of territory filled with opportunities for him to bestow favors on his industry cronies. In 2017, Mnuchin’s office released recommendations for tax regulations that were almost entirely lifted from a memo put out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce [a lobbying group for business interests].”

Scott Angelle, Director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: “Scott Angelle came to his Interior Department job overseeing safety and environmental enforcement after earning roughly $1.5 million on the board of an oil and gas pipeline company. Before that, he fought the BP-spill-triggered moratorium on Gulf Coast drilling while serving as Louisiana’s secretary of natural resources, a job from which he resigned when a brine company he was in charge of regulating created a giant sinkhole. Addressing an oil industry audience in 2017, Angelle gave out his cellphone number and advised his corporate listeners to communicate with him by phone in order to avoid leaving a paper trail.”

“Nancy Beck, named to head its office of chemical safety after holding a top job at an industry lobbying group, on whose behalf she had battled against an EPA proposal to halt the sale of a trio of chemicals linked to birth defects, nerve damage, and a disturbing number of deaths. Within weeks of her arrival, Beck was leading the charge against that proposal, based on the same arguments she had developed as a lobbyist, and over the protests of agency professionals who had been working on the issue.”

And so on.

Giving power to industry representatives while they fill your campaign coffers is fundamentally corrupt. Instead of bestowing power and respect upon openly demonstrated competency, cronyism and lobbyists-draft-laws favors those willing to sacrifice honesty, decency and actual-usefulness for mind-/heart-less loyalty. Trump does not appear to understand or care about the essentially evil nature of putting business in charge of regulating itself. In general, it is Donald Trump’s fundamental lack of insight into what is good about the United States of America that makes him so unfit to be its president.

One might reason that lobbyists simply give money to those politicians who already support their policies, and/or that Trump’s getting rid of bureaucratic red tape by essentially letting established powers within industries regulate themselves. The former argument weakens in instances where the money so obviously talks – such as DeVos ignoring a presidential directive that would, if implemented, be both good for the country and for Trump’s political reputation (good – but apparently not as good as all the money DeVos sends Trump’s way); or Trump helping the payday industry bilk American workers/voters. The latter argument becomes less convincing if you just stop and think about it for a second: we regulate business because people invariably sympathize too much with the material interests and security of themselves and their friends/allies and not enough with everybody else’s.

The relative lack of corruption in the Obama administration and in Joe Biden’s long political career will be covered later.

The executive summary of the interactive map of Trump’s corruption ends with a pitch for the democrats to focus on anti-corruption in the 2020 election. In this context, they touch upon Hunter Biden’s work as a lobbyist while his father was vice president. They do not let the Bidens off the hook:

“Unfortunately, voters all too often set their corruption outrage aside out of a weary sense that things will be pretty bad regardless of which way they go. That perception was one of Trump’s triumphs in the 2016 campaign; it was achieved through a combination of his ‘drain the swamp’ chants and his endless attacks on a Democratic nominee [Hillary Clinton] who had made herself conveniently vulnerable. He will no doubt deploy the same techniques again if Joe Biden is the nominee, pounding away at Hunter Biden’s high-paid corporate board gigs (emblematic, if truth be told, of small-time, bipartisan corruption that masks the much worse stuff), and ginning up whatever other scandals or pseudo-scandals come to mind. His assignment could be tougher if the Democrats end up making a different choice.”

But democratic voters did choose Biden, and so Trump has recourse to:
Look at Hunter Biden cashing in as a lobbyist while his father holds important government positions! This is Trump’s rhetorical move: If people are inclined to willfully hide from heaps of readily available evidence, then they can enjoy agreeing with Trump that everyone is out to get him and the media is overlooking the real political criminals; while those who cannot help but notice the corrupting influence of money on Trump the businessman as well as Trump the politician, but who still want to enjoy the nearness of Trump and his more rabid fans, can shrug their shoulders and say they all do it and at least Trump’s a real man.

Either Joe Biden or Don Trump will be president of the US in 2021. We who would save US democracy must demonstrate that though Biden is imperfect, he is sane and decent and very willing to work for democratic reforms. This, along with the kind of people and ideas he will bring into the White House makes him a viable option for those who believe that the US democracy is unlikely to survive another four years of Donald Trump. Joseph Biden is also the only option.

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