Four years ago to the day, President Donald Trump pledged to impose a blanket ban on political fundraising by registered foreign lobbyists. Now, some of these lobbyists are helping fund his candidacy for re-election.
During the 2016 election campaign, Trump warned of the corrupting influence of foreign governments and their willingness to use higher influence dealers to advance their causes. His warnings were aimed at his then-Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. And he pointed to one of the emails released by WikiLeaks after Russian hackers violated the email account of a senior Clinton employee, which he insisted “shows that senior officials of the Clinton campaign were plotting to take massive amounts of money from foreign lobbyists.
“This is money pooled by people registered as lobbyists on behalf of foreign governments,” Trump complained.
Trump made the comments in a speech unveiling an ethics reform plan he pledged to implement during his first 100 days in office. Among his proposals was “a total ban on foreign lobbyists from raising funds for the US elections.”
Not only has such a ban never materialized in any legal or legislative form, but Trump is now running for re-election with huge financial backing from the same types of foreign lobbyists whose influence he denounced ago. four years. And he does so even as his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, even repays small individual donations from registered foreign lobbyists.
Brian Ballard is one of Donald Trump’s most influential Washington lobbyists. His eponymous firm, Ballard Partners, has many national lobbying clients. But he also benefits from a solid foreign practice; Ballard himself is registered to lobby on behalf of the governments of Qatar, Zimbabwe, Kosovo and the Dominican Republic.
In addition to his lobbying practice, Ballard is a prolific fundraiser for Operation Trump. According to documents filed by the Federal Election Commission, he “pooled” nearly $ 1.7 million for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee to benefit the campaign, the Republican National Committee and dozens of states gone.
Pooling is the practice of raising funds and combining donations from other people and submitting them as a lump sum to the campaign or political committee they donate to. It is a popular way to gain favor with candidates and political parties.
According to FEC filings, 11 bundlers have raised more than $ 16 million for Trump Victory since last year. Besides Ballard, there’s David Tamasi, managing director of the Chartwell Strategy Group, which has raised over $ 150,000 for Trump Victory. Like Ballard, he lobbies for the government of Kosovo, in addition to the government of Georgia, according to the records of the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
Trump’s about-face highlights the yawning gulf between his 2016 campaign rhetoric – particularly his frequent promises to “drain the swamp” in DC – and his subsequent embrace of the very types of Washington swamp practices he defined for himself. itself in opposition to.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment. But Bryan Lanza, a senior communications assistant for Trump’s 2016 campaign who now lobbies for the governments of Libya, Zimbabwe and Haiti, among others, brushed off the apparent disconnect.
“I think his position over time has become a bit more mature,” Lanza said of Trump’s engagement in the 2016 election campaign. “Ultimately, it’s all optical, to say that they are doing something with the least possible impact, ”Lanza said of the Biden campaign’s decision to reimburse the money of lobbyists registered by FARA. “If someone really wants to show strength, you ban political parties, you ban super PACs – anything below that is lip service.”
“Do you know who invented the first super PAC?” Lanza added. “Thomas Jefferson, with French money – he took French money to influence the elections in the United States”
Ethics experts say Trump’s 2016 pledge to ban the fundraising of foreign agents likely wouldn’t have been a boon to efforts to curb foreign influence in the U.S. election. But it might at least have made a dent in rent-seeking by paid officials of foreign governments, the very practice that repelled Trump so much four years ago.
The proposal “was a half-measure that would do relatively little to combat foreign electoral interference,” the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit ethics group, wrote in a report last month on the reform measures. promised by Trump. “However, as foreign lobbyists often use campaign contributions and fundraising to grease the wheels of their foreign clients, such a ban could undermine the swampy nature of foreign lobbying.”
Ultimately, the CLC concluded, “tackling foreign electoral interference requires more than a ban on fundraising.”
To the extent that it would eliminate the type of insider Trump insulted himself against in 2016, however, the president’s team appears to have taken the opposite turn. Tamasi and Ballard both held financial leadership positions at Trump Victory due to their prowess as political fundraisers. Last month, Trump also asked Tamasi for a position on a federal advisory board responsible for the preservation of historical artifacts abroad.
Ballard held the top spots on Trump’s inaugural committee and transition team, although he was not appointed to an administrative post. But one of her employees, Ballard Partners lobbyist and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, was successful in pushing for the Qatari government to quit the post of senior communications assistant at the White House during this year’s impeachment process and then return to his post as a paid Doha advocate.
While not campaigning for an election, Bondi helps raise money for the president’s re-election. Last month, she joined Ivanka Trump on stage at a fundraiser in Florida that reportedly raised $ 3 million for the president’s re-election efforts.
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