November 14, 2016

No Mr. Trump, You Don’t Have To Fill Your White House with Lobbyists


Candidate Donald Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” in corrupt Washington DC.  But immediately after the election, he moved to pick out his transition team and Cabinet short-list from some Binders Full of Lobbyists — a collection of paid advocates for banks, oil companies, junk food, and cable TV providers.

Pressed on this contradiction by Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes,” Trump responded, “Everybody’s a lobbyist down there… everybody that works for government, they then leave government and they become a lobbyist, essentially. I mean, the whole place is one big lobbyist.”

Trump is close to being right about this. Close.  It certainly feels that way a lot of the time.  But he’s not right.  There are many qualified people, people with the talent, experience, and motivation to advance some of Trump’s stated policy goals, who have not been working as lobbyists for corporations, or, as is the case with people like Myron Ebell, who is handling environmental policy for the Trump transition, working at non-profit groups that are largely fronts for the interests of corporations that fund them.

Take one example: Lori Wallach, who has been director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch since 1995.  Wallach, a hard-nosed Harvard Law graduate, has been fighting for more than two decades against the very trade agreements — NAFTA, WTO, TPP — that Trump has attacked as harmful to U.S. workers and our economy. Public Citizen has never taken corporate donations. While Wallach and Trump would differ as to exactly why these trade deals are bad, and how trade could be improved, there is common ground, and Wallach’s scrappy style, and her willingness to take on politicians from both parties, might appeal to our new president.

Disclosure: I have served on Public Citizen’s board of directors for more than a decade.  More disclosure: Neither Lori Wallach nor anyone else at Public Citizen knows I’m writing this, and she, and the other people I mention below, probably want no part of a Trump administration.  I don’t blame them, given that Trump is wholly unfit to be president, and that his very first announced appointment was of Stephen Bannon, operator of the racist extreme right-wing website Breitbart.

But someone has to run our government, and the Trump people seem a little overwhelmed (according to the Wall Street Journal, following Trump’s visit last week to the White House, “Trump aides were described … as unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced at the end of Mr. Obama’s term”), and though most sensible folk are going to work instead on the outside to resist bad actions by the new administration, there’s an argument that some responsible people should take jobs if offered.

Other examples of the kind of non-lobbyists Trump could consider: Sheryl Sandberg, a former Treasury Department official who is chief operating officer of Facebook, which after all is where many Trump supporters get their (real and fake) news. Trump says he wants to bring back American jobs; under Sandberg, Facebook has created thousands of good U.S. jobs. Or Rohit Chopra, who served five years in the Obama Administration and was a member of the Hillary Clinton transition team; he’s a fierce advocate for helping students get quality career education so they can get jobs in fields like health care, information technology, equipment repair, and manufacturing.

There are many others — ex-CEOs of manufacturing companies, doctors, teachers.  Reducing the influence of special interest lobbyists on Washington policy was the one Trump pledge I could get behind. He didn’t need to break it in his first week.

This article also appears on Huffington Post