In Chicago, home of the original “smoke-filled room” at the Blackstone Hotel, we have learned the hard way that bad stuff happens when political insiders huddle in secret to shape our future.
So we’re more than a little sensitive to the Trump administration’s effort to hide conflicts of interest involving lobbyists and industry lawyers working for the federal government. It is entirely right that the public should know who these people are and for whom they previously worked. How else can we be sure they’ve really switched teams and are working for the American people now?
Previous presidents could live with that kind of transparency; we see no reason Trump can’t, too.
Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers have been hired by the Trump administration, putting them in a position to quietly write rules to shower riches on old friends. But the Trump administration has refused to cooperate with the federal government’s top watchdog, the Office of Government Ethics, in identifying and monitoring these employees.
According to the rules, lobbyists and lawyers are prohibited from working for the government in the same areas they handled for private clients. But in certain circumstances — if someone has a particular expertise, for example — the government can issue a waiver.
In the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, those waivers were made public, but the Trump’s White House would rather keep you clueless. It has asked Walter M. Shaub Jr., head of the ethics office, to withdraw his request for every federal agency to turn over copies of all waivers.
Ethics officers for former administrations, both Republican and Democrat, were stunned.
Central to so much corruption in government is the problem of the revolving door. A lobbyist for an industry that relies on government contracts, such as a makers of bullets or fighter jets, cultivates excellent friends in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Then those friends hire him to do government work, where he rewrites laws and regulations to favor his previous employer. Then he quits the government job and, pushing back through the revolving door, returns to his old employer, who makes their appreciation clear.
According to the New York Times, many former lobbyists now working for the Trump administration appear to be working on the same issues they handled for their old bosses, including oil and gas companies and Wall Street banks.
During the campaign, Trump said he would “drain the swamp.” When ethics waivers are kept secret, the swamp grows bigger.
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