Trump’s Lobbying Ban Draws Mixed Reviews From Ethics Groups

White House ethics order cancels Obama’s similar directive from 2009.

Following through on his pledge to “drain the swamp,” President Trump on Saturday signed an executive order on ethics that bans full-time political appointees from engaging in lobbying activities at their old agency for five years after leaving government.

Superseding a similar document put out by President Obama in 2009, the order also prohibits Trump administration appointees, upon leaving government, from working for any foreign government or political party that would require registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Additionally, appointees entering government must pledge to refrain from participating in any matters substantially related to their former employer or clients, “including regulations and contracts,” for two years from the date of their appointment.

Ethics specialists found both positive and negative provisions in the order, which explicitly revokes Obama’s order.

The two former White House ethics officers from Democratic and Republican administrations, who’re now chairing the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement that Trump’s executive order creates two major loopholes in the Obama executive order.

“First, it removes the ban on lobbyists going to work in the agencies that they lobbied. Lobbyists bring a special interest baggage with them when they pass through the revolving door when they go to work in the agencies they once lobbied. It’s as if their former employers have embedded agents of influence in the government,” said Richard Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, who have been leading CREW’s board since December and weighing in on several Trump ethics issues.

“The Trump EO also removes Obama’s additional revolving-door restrictions on non-lobbyists when they leave the government,” which, they added, was a check on “shadow lobbying” by unregistered players.

Trump “could have closed loopholes,” the CREW attorneys said. “Instead he simply proceeds with the loophole-ridden Lobbying Disclosure Act. All in all, this is a step back from the Obama EO that was very helpful in avoiding scandals in the last eight years.”

The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight was more upbeat. “The Trump ethics order takes a lot from the previous orders issued by Presidents Obama and Clinton,” POGO General Counsel Scott Amey told Government Executive in an email. “The five-year ban on lobbying one's former agency and the ban on lobbying on behalf of a foreign government are positive improvements. We had hoped that President Trump would honor his statement to expand the definition of lobbying to capture all of the influence peddlers who are not registered lobbyists, but that didn't happen.”

Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association, said that while his group is not directly affected by the ban that applies to appointees, the order could limit the White House’s ability to recruit from the talent pool. “But it’s more cosmetic than anything,” he said. “In my experience, there really aren’t many political appointees who come from the lobbying community. Lobbying is a very specific thing that you have to register for, and most [people] after they leave the federal government don’t have that skill set.”