The duty of a Washington DC lobbyist is to bend the ears of lawmakers and administration officials in the hopes of influencing bills and initiatives that might divvy out taxpayer dollars to corporations or keep regulatory agencies sniffing in other directions. When Trump assumed the presidency, many lobbyists were wringing their hands. His pledge to “drain the swamp” and widely praised policy to discourage revolving doors between the private and public sectors indicated they would fall on hard times. However, President Trump’s choices of appointees to his administration have repeatedly shown that even if Trump appears unswayed by lobbyist influence, D.C.’s love affair with the corporate state is far from over.
Goldman Sachs was, to some extent, ousted from a long-standing seat of power after the recession. Though President Obama invited Wall Street insiders into his administration, he also signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, a bill that, among other things, established the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, an agency designated to place a stricter emphasis on evaluating the practices of big banks.
Trump, whose administration is filled with Goldman Sachs affiliates, has repeatedly expressed his eagerness to repeal that bill. Sach’s spent millions on the election cycle alone; the Center for Responsive Politics reported that the Wall Street juggernaut forked over upwards of $5 million. Though the Trump administration did not receive those funds, he has nevertheless appointed a number of Sach’s alumni, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin and Senior Adviser Anthony Scaramucci. Even Steve Bannon, who is widely regarded as the most influential man in Washington, cut his teeth at the bank. Gary Cohn was working as Goldman’s Chief Operation Officer until Trump appointed him Director of the National Economic Council.
Despite Trump’s strong support among voters who feel ostracized by big industries, corporate America seems to have a seat at the table in the White House. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson faced a blistering confirmation hearing in which his ties to Exxon Mobil, the company he once led, were scrutinized. CNN reported that Tillerson has placed his stocks in that company under a blind trust, and while Exxon was one of the top spenders on lobbying during 2016, many hoped Tillerson’s former employer wouldn’t enjoy any privileges. Yet in a press release, the White House appeared to have plagiarized from the oil giant. Both press releases, one from the company and one from the White house, praised Exxon, reading:
“ExxonMobil is strategically investing in new refining and chemical-manufacturing projects in the U.S. Gulf Coast region to expand its manufacturing and export capacity. The company’s Growing the Gulf expansion program, consists of 11 major chemical, refining, lubricant and liquefied natural gas projects at proposed new and existing facilities along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Investments began in 2013 and are expected to continue through at least 2022.”
Like Goldman Sachs, Exxon did not contribute funds to Trump’s campaign (Exxon employees did contribute over $90,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign while Sachs paid big fees to entice the former secretary of state to deliver private speeches at their company). Nevertheless, Exxon is enjoying ties to positions of extreme influence.
Trump continued this trend with his appointment of Patrick Shanahan as deputy defense secretary this week. The move gives another company — this time, Boeing — a voice inside the administration. The Hill notes that “Shanahan has been Boeing’s senior vice president for supply chain and operations since April.” On Boeing’s website, Shanahan enjoys a lengthy bio that states he “was vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, starting in December 2004.” He held that position, one based out of Washington DC, until 2007, and worked in the company in various positions for years before assuming that role.
Boeing has a longstanding relationship with the government as a leading supplier of military aircraft, and they’ve spent a great deal of money on lobbyists ($17 million in 2016) to ensure that their relationship with the Pentagon is strong, regardless of who is in the White House.
On Twitter, the president previously criticized government deals with Boeing. In December, he wrote, “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” However, he has also praised the company. In February, he visited a Boeing plant in South Carolina where he declared, “[W]e are looking seriously at a big order…the problem is that [Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg] is a very, very tough negotiator, but I think we may get it.”
Earlier this week, Trump unveiled his budget, which among other things, proposed a $54 million increase in military spending. That weighty investment could spell a big payday for industries like Boeing, and while there will likely be plenty of lobbying before the budget is finalized, companies like Boeing, Exxon, and Goldman Sachs each have inside men and are likely to continue to enjoy loud voices in Washington D.C. — without paying the president a dime.